July 21, 2020

TODAY: Senate to Vote on Schatz, Van Hollen Amendment to Stop Police Militarization, Limit Weapons Transfers

Amendment to NDAA Limits Transfer of Military Equipment to Local Police Departments

Today, the U.S. Senate is set to vote on a bipartisan amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) introduced by U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would limit the transfer of certain surplus military-grade equipment to local law enforcement agencies across the country. The amendment places limitations on the Department of Defense’s 1033 program which authorizes the federal transfer of military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies. Senator Van Hollen has previously helped introduce legislation on this issue. 

The amendment will prohibit the transfer of military equipment to law enforcement agencies, including tear gas, armor-piercing firearms and ammunition, bayonets, grenade launchers and grenades, combat tracked vehicles, and drones. This prohibition only applies to offensive equipment and does not prohibit the transfer of defensive equipment, such as body armor.

“Our police are meant to protect and serve our communities – not turn our streets into battlefields with tanks and heavy artillery. We’ve seen firsthand how the transfer of these weapons has contributed to the militarization of some of our police departments – leading to the further erosion of police-community relations and the escalation of violence. It’s time to stop putting these weapons on our streets. I urge the Senate to pass this amendment today,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“Weapons of war don’t belong in our local police departments and should never be used against the American people,” said Senator Schatz. “As we see our communities turning into what looks more like a war zone, it’s clear that we need to fix this. There is a growing bipartisan consensus that giving local law enforcement military equipment such as bayonets, grenade launchers, armor-piercing bullets, and tear gas is immoral and does nothing to keep people safe.”

“One of the policies I examined closely while the Senate was discussing police reform legislation was the ‘1033’ program, which permits the Department of Defense to sell certain items to local law enforcement. Nobody I spoke with thought a police department needed things like grenade launchers, armored drones, or bayonets. Police should be there to serve the community, and there is no need for military-grade combat equipment to be on the streets of our cities in order to do that,” said Senator Murkowski. “This policy change will restrict some sales, while continuing to allow the ones that make sense.”

“It is time for our country to reimagine public safety in our communities. Arming police officers with military weapons will not make us safer. Safe communities are healthy communities, and achieving healthy communities will require us to re-evaluate spending decisions, de-militarize local police departments, and invest in education, mental health, access to health care, job training, and affordable housing. That’s why I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce this amendment, which will discontinue the practice of providing military weaponry to local police departments,” said Senator Harris.

“Our bipartisan amendment, based on my Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, which I have introduced for several years with Senator Schatz, confronts the federal militarization of our local police departments by preventing the Defense Department from transferring military weapons, including grenade launchers, bayonets, and weaponized drones, meant for war overseas to local police. It would do this while also ensuring officers still have access to protective equipment so they can do their jobs as safely as possible. I urge the Senate to pass this long-overdue reform,” said Senator Paul.

Reports have shown that police militarization fails to reduce rates of violent crime or change the number of officers assaulted or killed. Instead, arming police departments with military equipment has led to an increase in officer-involved shootings and civilian deaths. The amendment has broad support from more than 60 organizations, including the NAACP, the National Urban League, FreedomWorks, R Street, and the American Conservative Union among others.

The amendment is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).