Military & Security

Do Local Police Really Need War-Ready Paraphernalia?

New York Times: “President Obama … said Monday that he would tighten standards on the provision of military-style equipment to local police departments and provide funds for police officers to wear cameras.”

“Administration officials said they concluded after a review that the vast majority of transfers of military-style equipment strengthened local policing, even after the police in Ferguson were criticized for heavy-handed use of such gear to quell protests last summer. But the officials said local authorities needed common standards in the types of hardware they requested and better training in how to use it.”

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Emily Badger contends that “the recommendations tinker at the edges of the central concern raised by critics who worry that police have become overly militarized: Why do they even need this kind of stuff — armored vehicles, gun turrets, automatic weapons — in the first place?”

“Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have called for the Pentagon to stop giving the police such equipment, because it only further heightens tensions with local communities, turning neighborhoods into war zones, casting residents as enemy combatants.”

“The report says nothing about how local police are using all this equipment — for crowd control? to fight drug trafficking? — in part because the federal agencies that give it to them don’t track the answer.”

Incarceration Rates Not Correlated to Crime

Emily Badger and Christopher Ingraham: “Incarceration rates have risen steeply in the United States over the last 20 years, a period of time that also covers a precipitous decline in crime. These two facts … don’t necessarily mean that the one trend has driven the other.”

A recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts analyzing “state-level data also reinforce the idea that increases in the local prison population don’t predict decreases in crime very well.”

“The scatter plot below, which does not include local jail populations, shows the relationship between the change in incarceration rate between 1994 and 2012 in each state, compared to the change in its crime rate over the same period of time. Nationwide, the crime rate declined by 40 percent during this time, as the imprisonment rate rose by 24 percent. Notably, though, some of the states with the steepest declines in crime — New York, New Jersey, California, Maryland — actually decreased their imprisonment rates.”

“If anything, this picture suggests a narrative that runs counter to the common view that more prisoners lead to less crime: To the extent that there is any trend here, it’s actually that states incarcerating more people have seen smaller decreases in crime.”

Terrorism is Not a Major Worry to Americans

Gallup: “Four percent of Americans currently mention terrorism as the most important problem facing the U.S. Although low on an absolute basis, it is the highest percentage naming this issue since May 2010. Mentions of terrorism have been near 1% for the past four years.”

“Thirteen years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., terrorism is far less top-of-mind for Americans than it was immediately after those attacks. Mentions of terrorism did increase slightly this month as terrorist groups such as ISIS took actions that directly affect the U.S., prompting calls for U.S. action from many politicians and some journalists.”

Views of Terrorism as the Most Important U.S. Problem

The Supreme Court Curtails the Ability to Hold Bad Cops Accountable

Erwin Chemerinsky, writing in The New York Times, notes that the Supreme Court has a history of “protecting bad cops.”

“In recent years, the court has made it very difficult, and often impossible, to hold police officers and the governments that employ them accountable for civil rights violations. This undermines the ability to deter illegal police behavior and leaves victims without compensation. When the police kill or injure innocent people, the victims rarely have recourse.”

“Because it is so difficult to sue government entities, most victims’ only recourse is to sue the officers involved. But here, too, the Supreme Court has created often insurmountable obstacles. The court has held that all government officials sued for monetary damages can raise ‘immunity’ as a defense. Police officers and other law enforcement personnel who commit perjury have absolute immunity and cannot be sued for money, even when it results in the imprisonment of an innocent person.”

“When there is not absolute immunity, police officers are still protected by ‘qualified immunity’ when sued for monetary damages.”

“Taken together, these rulings have a powerful effect. They mean that the officer who shot Michael Brown and the City of Ferguson will most likely never be held accountable in court.”

America’s Local Police Stock Up on Grenade Launchers and Armored Vehicles

The New York Times: “State and local police departments obtain some of their military-style equipment through a free Defense Department program created in the early 1990s. While the portion of their gear that comes from the program is relatively small (most of it is paid for by the departments or through federal grants), detailed data from the Pentagon illustrates how ubiquitous such equipment has become.”

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A few highlights from the map:

  • Oklahoma County: 8 Helicopters, 400 Night Vision Goggles, 227 Assault Rifles, 2 Mine-Resistant Vehicles, 1 Plane
  • San Bernadino, CA: 208 Night Vision Goggles, 114 Assault Rifles
  • Burleigh, ND: 353 Assault Rifles, 1 Plane
  • Pine, MN: 1 Mine-Resistant Vehicle, 1 Armored Vehicle
  • Deschutes, OR: 4 Grenade Launchers, 1 Armored Vehicle, 30 Night Vision Goggles, 40 Assault Rifles, 40 Body Armor Pieces
  • Converse, WY: 23 Assault Rifles, 4 Armored Vehicles
  • Lancaster, NE: 1 Mine-Resistant Vehicle, 3 Armored Vehicles

Which States Are Ardent Recipients of Surplus Military Gear?

Christopher Ingraham: “The Defense Department’s excess property program provides state and local law enforcement agencies with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of unused military equipment annually … These figures show exactly what kinds of equipment are being provided, where the equipment is going … and how the flow of equipment has increased dramatically over the past eight years.”

“In 2006, the Pentagon transferred roughly $33 million worth of goods to local agencies. By 2013 that number had risen more than tenfold, to at least $420 million.”

“Some states are more enthusiastic participants in the program than others … Alabama is on top, receiving more than $10,000 worth of military goods since 2006 for every sworn officer in the state. Delaware is second, at a relatively modest $5,800 per officer. Tennessee, Florida and D.C. are ranked three through five, respectively.”


“The free flow of combat gear like assault rifles and grenade launchers, and especially the sudden steep rise in transfers of heavily armored combat vehicles, should give anyone pause.”

A Bigger Veterans Scandal

In a New York Times opinion piece, Michael F. Cannon and Christopher Preble of the Cato Institute argue that there’s another, bigger Veteran’s scandal.

“Here’s how. Veterans’ health and disability benefits are some of the largest costs involved in any military conflict, but they are delayed costs, typically reaching their peak 40 or 50 years after the conflict ends. Congress funds these commitments — through the Department of Veterans Affairs — only once they come due.”

“As a result, when Congress debates whether to authorize and fund military action, it can act as if those costs don’t exist. But concealing those costs makes military conflicts appear less burdensome and therefore increases their likelihood. It’s as if Congress deliberately structured veterans’ benefits to make it easier to start wars.”

“The Department of Veterans Affairs is supposed to help wounded veterans, but its current design makes soldiers more likely to get killed or injured in the first place. The scandal isn’t at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The scandal is the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Is Obama Too Passive Over Veterans Affairs Scandal?

Dana Milbank questions whether President Obama is truly “madder than hell” over the veterans affairs scandal.

“Like VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Obama wasn’t entirely convinced something bad had happened.”

“But there are no ‘ifs’ about it: … Lawmakers in both parties have spoken of a systemic problem at the agency, and the American Legion, citing ‘poor oversight,’ has called for Shinseki’s resignation.”

Obama’s “response to the scandal has created an inherent contradiction: He can’t be ‘madder than hell’ about something if he won’t acknowledge that the thing actually occurred. This would be a good time for Obama to knock heads and to get in front of the story. But, frustratingly, he’s playing President Passive, insisting on waiting for the VA’s inspector general to complete yet another investigation, this one looking into the Phoenix deaths.”


Is the Nation’s Electricity Grid Vulnerable to Attack?

Brian Wingfield examines potential threats to the nation’s electricity grid. And it’s not just from snipers and terrorists.

“As the electricity network has become increasingly dependent on software and the Internet, the utility industry has focused on combating potential cyber attacks.”

“The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week ordered the power industry to identify critical facilities and come up with a plan to protect them from attack.”

“Regulators are now trying to find the best way to guard against all threats to the generators, transformers and thousands of miles of high-voltage power lines that make up the U.S. electric grid.”

FERC Commissioner John Norris argues that “the U.S. should focus on technologies, like the development of microgrids, that can quickly isolate damaged components from the rest of the network in the event of an attack.”

“Ultimately, the steps industry and regulators take to guard against physical attacks will be a balancing act between securing the grid and shielding consumers from high costs. The FERC must approve rate changes resulting from investments to the generators and high-voltage power lines that make up the bulk-electric network.”

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