During the protests of summer 2020 over George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police, thousands of people clashed with local law enforcement officers equipped with military-grade armor, weapons, and apparel. The shocking scenes of militarized police facing off with protesters in cities across the United States ignited debates about the use of military equipment and tactics by law enforcement, as well as questions about how and why local police departments obtained federal military equipment.
Since the 1990s, the Department of Defense has transferred excess military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies under the 1033 Program. (Also see, most large cities in America prioritize police over health and social support.)
To determine which local police departments have the most federal military equipment, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on equipment transfers from the Defense Logistics Agency of the DOD. Law enforcement agencies were ranked based on the total value of military equipment transfers from 1990 to 2022. Statewide agencies were excluded. City and county population figures are five-year estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey.
While many of the equipment transfers are non-lethal items like first aid kids, jackets, or binoculars, the program has also allowed some departments to acquire items more commonly seen on the battlefield, including camouflage uniforms, helicopters and other aircraft, sniper rifles, mine-resistant vehicles, and tactical armored vehicles among others.
The Buckeye Police Department of Buckeye, Arizona, for example, has received two Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, a military vehicle designed to withstand improvised explosive device attacks and ambushes. A spokeswoman for the police department has said the mine-resistant vehicles are being used by the SWAT team for tactical operations like barricades, search warrants, and responding to active shooter scenes.
Most of the states receiving the most federal military equipment overall are large states in the South, such as Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia. Adjusted for population, however, the state receiving the most federal military equipment per capita is North Dakota. The Jamestown Police Department in Jamestown, North Dakota, for example — a city of roughly 16,000 people — has received over $3 million of surplus military equipment, including an armored humvee in 2021. (Here are the largest police departments in the U.S.)
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