The Federal 1033 program allows police departments to purchase surplus equipment from the Department of Defense. Critics say it’s helped militarize police departments across the nation since then.
“Beginning in the nineties, there was this ramping up of the idea that police were waging a war on crime. And one of the ways this war mentality was accelerated was the creation of the 1033 program,” says Alex Vitale, a Professor at Brooklyn College, the author of The End of Policing and a heavy critic of the program.
He says the program has expanded dramatically in the decades following 9/11.
“Billions of dollars have been put into various homeland security grants to allow the department to directly purchase this equipment for military contractors. This has created a vast new domestic law enforcement market.”
The Madison Police Department acquires equipment under the 1033 program. According to Acting Chief Vic Wahl, the MPD primarily uses the program to acquire bulk items, and occasionally, expensive equipment.
“Basically we’re looking for things that are big-ticket items that would be a big cost to the city, or we’re looking for stuff we can get en masse, like N95 masks, flashlights and tourniquets,” Wahl said at yesterday’s city Finance Committee meeting. “It’s all things that we’re already using in some way, shape or form, but it just sort of supplements things we already have.”
City alders are now debating whether the police department can continue to procure items under the 1033 program.
Yesterday, the Finance Committee delayed a blanket proposal to prohibit the MPD from purchasing any more equipment under 1033. The Madison Police Department has also obtained night vision equipment, rifles, less-lethal launcher tools, and an armored vehicle under the program — although some items have since been returned.
According to David Schmiedicke, Madison’s Finance Director, the 1033 program saves the city thousands of dollars a year.
“Basically, it’s about $25,000 a year in annual operating amounts and about $100,000 in capitol funds associated with larger equipment,” he says.
Last night, the committee ultimately referred the vote to a meeting next month to allow committee members to draft an alternate version that would limit the types of equipment the MPD can acquire — but not ban the use acquisition of items under the program altogether.
Committee members briefly discussed a proposal that would require the Police Department seek approval from alders for each new purchase from the program. According to Chief Wahl, the acquisition process doesn’t allow time for that kind of debate.
“The way it works is there’s a web portal and whatever becomes available ends up in that portal. Then if we see it, we can go in and request it. But, it’s first come, first serve. There isn’t time to seek approval because of that,” he says.
Earlier this month, Alder Max Prestigiacomo introduced a measure that would outright block the department from using tear gas, mace and less-lethal projectile devices. Speaking with WORT last week, Chief Wahl called the proposal “unworkable.”
“You would cease to have a functioning police department the next morning,” Wahl says. “You’re basically saying the only force options you want officers to have are firearms and batons. What the cops used fifty years ago.”
Meanwhile, the debate over the 1033 Program continues to play out on a federal level. On July 16th, in a 51-49 vote, the U.S. Senate shot down proposed, bipartisan restrictions to the program.
According to Politico, the restrictions would have barred, among other things, transfers of tear gas, grenades, grenade launchers, armor piercing firearms and ammunition, and certain types of combat vehicles from the Department of Defense to police departments.