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First in the Country: New Jersey Law a First Step to Stop Federal Militarization of Local Police

TRENTON, N.J. (March 18, 2015) – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law yesterday that represents an important first step towards blocking federal programs that militarize local police in the state.

Informally known as the 1033 Program, the Pentagon provides local law enforcement, at little or no upfront cost, surplus federal property, including aircraft, armored vehicles, automatic weapons, and night vision equipment originally intended for use by the United States Armed Forces without even obtaining approval of the local governing body.

Introduced by Sen. Nia Gill, Senate Bill 2364 (S2364) flips this process around, banning local law enforcement agencies from obtaining this equipment without first getting approval from their local government. Currently, these military transfers happen directly between the feds and local police, as if they make up part of the same government. This law interposes the local government in the process, giving the people of New Jersey the power to end it, and at the least, forcing the process into the open.

S2364 passed the Senate by a vote of 36-0 concurred  by a vote of 70-0.  With Christie’s signature, it’s the first state law of its kind directly addressing the endless flow of military equipment to state and local police.

EFFECT

Almost 13,000 agencies in all 50 states and four U.S. territories participate in the military “recycling” program, and the share of equipment and weaponry gifted each year continues to expand. In 2011, $500 million worth of military equipment was distributed to law enforcement agencies throughout the country. That number jumped to $546 million in 2012.

Since 1990, $4.2 billion worth of equipment has been transferred from the Defense Department to domestic police agencies through the 1033 program, in addition to various other programs supposedly aimed at fighting the so-called War on Drugs and War on Terror.

According to the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, the Office of Emergency Management assisted with the transfer of over $30 million in excess Department of Defense property to New Jersey law enforcement agencies since the beginning of federal fiscal year 2014.

S2364 wouldn’t put an end to the militarization of New Jersey law enforcement, but is does it create a mechanism for local communities to stop the free-flowing tide of equipment. Citizens now have the power and forum to pressure their elected officials at a city or county level to vote against such acquisitions or face the consequences come the next election.The new law also creates an environment of transparency that didn’t exist before.

CONDITIONAL VETO OF SECOND BILL

Gov. Christie issued a conditional veto of a second bill that would create another level of accountability for the 1033 program.

Also introduced by Sen. Gill, Senate Bill 2365 (S2365), would have required the state attorney general to oversee and personally approve each federal transfer, and require a yearly report of “the number of equipment transfers that were made, specifically identifying each law enforcement agency which received the equipment, the exact equipment received, and the purposes for which the equipment will be used.”

Arguing that it would place too big a burden and workload on the attorney general, Christie recommended amendments that would only require the AG to “act as the state coordinator” for the oversight program. In that case, it appears the majority of the workload would fall on the state police. The legislature will have to approve the amendments by a majority vote in both chambers, or override the veto by a 2/3 vote in both chambers.

NOT ALONE

Stronger bills are up for consideration in Montana, Massachusetts, Minnesota and elsewhere. “New Jersey has taken the important first step towards ending this federal militarization and control of local police,” said Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amendment Center. “As James Madison taught us, refusing to cooperate with federal programs in multiple states is the most effective way to bring them down.”

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