Under the federal 1033 program, local police departments across the country can purchase excess military equipment from the U.S. Department of Defense. Critics argue that the program has led to the increased militarization of America’s police.
Yesterday the city’s Finance Committee approved a measure that would limit what equipment the Madison Police Department can purchase under the program.
Acting Chief of Police Victor Wahl says Madison’s Police Department primarily purchases first aid equipment, flashlights and other non-weapon supplies through the program. But the Department has utilized the program to obtain an armored vehicle and robotic equipment. The department also purchased rifles through 1033 in the 1990’s, according to Wahl.
The Chief says he has no complaints about yesterday’s proposed measure.
“It still allows us to get some of the things that we have a use for; masks, tourniquets, first aid kits, those sorts of things. To me, it’s an appropriate balance and something I have no opposition to,” Wahl said.
The proposed measure would also require that the Madison Police Department seek approval from the common council for any purchase exceeding $50,000. An amendment introduced by Alder Mike Verveer sought to drop that amount to $10,000, but that proposal was defeated in a four to two vote.
According to Chief Wahl, the department has only exceeded the approved $50,000 limit a handful of times, including in 2018 when the department purchased an armored vehicle.
“Off the top of my head, about a half a dozen times,” Wahl said. “The [armored] vehicle was one, and then some robotics over the years. It’s relatively infrequent.”
Under the proposal, the police department would be barred from purchasing grenades and other explosives, tear gas, bayonets, armor piercing weapons and ammunition, tracked combat vehicles and weaponized drones through the 1033 program.
Also at last night’s Finance Committee meeting, members recommended allocating $750,000 to fund a Small Business Equity and Recovery Program. The program will support Black and minority owned businesses, according to the resolution.
The city already tried, and failed, to pass a downtown recovery program that would have allocated $500,000 in financial aid for State Street and downtown businesses impacted by COVID-19 and looting this summer.
But Matt Mikolajewski, Director of the City’s Economic Development Division, stressed that this proposal was separate from the now-shelved Downtown Recovery Program.
“There is not a downtown recovery component to what’s before you this evening,” Mikolajewski said. “Certainly downtown entrepreneurs, including those of color, would be eligible to receive support. But, this is not a downtown recovery program, it’s a much broader small business recovery program especially focused on business owners of color.”
The funding for the resolution will be diverted from incomplete projects or projects that had left-over funding upon completion. The resolution would pull $303,000 from remodeling projects on the fourth floor of the city-county building, $250,000 from improvements to the Midtown police station and $197,000 from a Public Safety Campus on the city’s north side.
And finally, the finance committee unanimously voted to recommend that the City establish new ordinances to establish community control over Madison’s police.
The committee also voted to recommend the creation of a formal Office of the Independent Police Monitor and the Police Civilian Oversight Board. The police auditor position and the oversight board still need final approval by the city council before they’re formally adopted.
(Photo c/o Chali Pittman)