Ferguson Protest Update: Militarization of Arizona's Maricopa County Police Raise Concerns of 1033 Program, Missing Weapons
Following criticism of the militarization of law enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri, and the subsequent order for a review of such activities, national organizations are highlighting Arizona police and their use of military-grade weapons.
Law enforcement agencies across the U.S. are eligible to access surplus military-grade weapons from the Department of Defense. Law enforcement officers in Ferguson have used such equipment to control crowds or individuals protesting the treatment by police toward the community and the death of 18-year-old African American Michael Brown, who was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9.
In Arizona, details of military-grade weapons in the state have raised concerns, particularly from national civil rights organizations. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Arizona law enforcement has acquired a "staggering cache" of military-grade weapons, including 1,034 guns, 712 rifles, 42 forced entry tools, 120 utility trucks, 64 armored vehicles and 17 helicopters on top of the 21,211 "other types" of military equipment.
The ACLU noted Maricopa County, led by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, to hold a .50 caliber machine gun, 120 assault rifles, five armored vehicles and 10 helicopters. Arizona was able to obtain these weapons from the 1033 Program.
In the report "War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing," the military-grade equipment's purpose was to ease and secure the southern border with Mexico, but the ACLU recognized that the equipment may have been used for other activities based on the track records of federal grant programs.
"The bottom line is that Arizona law enforcement agencies at and well beyond the actual border have become unnecessarily and dangerously militarized," the ACLU reported.
"Carried out by ten or more officers armed with assault rifles, flashbang grenades, and battering rams, these paramilitary raids disproportionately impacted people of color, sending the clear message that the families being raided are the enemy," said ACLU's Center for Justice Senior Counsel Kara Dansky. "This unnecessary violence causes property damage, injury, and death."
Meanwhile, Sheriff Arpaio revealed his department misplaced nine firearms that belonged to the 1033 Program. The Maricopa County sheriff said nearly two dozen weapons were unaccounted for since his 1993 election, but nearly half have been recovered.Some weapons were taken home by retired or current law enforcement officers. In 2012, Maricopa County was suspended from receiving any surplus military equipment from the 1033 Program due to the missing weapons. Despite the suspension, Maricopa County was allowed to keep the weapons.
The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) also voiced concerns with the 1033 Program. LULAC Director of Policy Luis Torres told Latin Post there needs to be more oversight and follow-ups with the 1033 Program.
"We have seen on the southwest border for a very long time a push to bring the National Guard troops to patrol the border, a push by some counties to stock up on these military-grade weapons," said Torres. "Maricopa County, for example, was a primary beneficiary of the 1033 Program, and we know that Maricopa County, with Sherriff Arpaio, they've been under investigation for various different alleged abuses of the way they treat immigrants. We've seen that on the southwest border and now it is happening in Ferguson, with a different, more heated racial elements there."
The 1033 Program supplied approximately $450 million in military equipment for municipal police departments in 2013, and more than $5.1 billion-worth of equipment since 1997.
According to a White House official, the 1033 Program review will be conducted by the Defense Department, Homeland Security, Justice Department, Treasury Department, Domestic Policy Council, National Security Council and the Office of Management and Budget.
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