With little public attention, the Florida State University Police Department acquired a Humvee in 2012 from the controversial 1033 program established by the Department of Defense that transfers military surplus equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies.
Recent events in Ferguson, Mo., where images of a heavily armed local police department — donning full battle gear acquired from the surplus equipment program — confronting protesters angry with the police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, resonated with a nation weary of local police militarization. The resulting public outcry triggered a presidential review and a Senate hearing earlier last month where both Republican and Democratic lawmakers assailed the program for what they said was a lack of federal oversight and for unexpectedly contributing to the militarization of police forces across the country.
The equipment transfer program — created in a section of a military spending bill in 1991 — allows the transfer of hardware that has been deemed “excess to the needs of the Department of Defense,” according to the law’s original wording. The equipment would be provided free of charge, with police departments responsible for paying transportation and future maintenance costs. Established in a time of rapidly rising crime rates due to drug violence, the program was later expanded with Section 1033 in 1996 to include counter-terrorism efforts. Since its inception, the program has allocated $5.1 billion worth of surplus equipment to local law enforcement agencies, with over $450 million worth of equipment being distributed in 2013 alone, according to a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Campus police departments can also procure equipment and participate in the Pentagon program. A recent investigation by The Chronicle of Higher Education revealed that at least 117 college police departments acquired excess equipment from the Department of Defense, with six universities in Florida benefiting from the program, including Florida State.
In an interview with The Last Word, the chief of police at Florida State and President of the International Campus Law Enforcement Administrators David Perry welcomed the Obama administration’s review and defended the program, citing the equipment’s cost-saving measures and the plethora of little-publicized day to day equipment that college police departments can acquire under the program, usually at little to no cost to FSU police.
“For the most part, the equipment obtained [in the 1033 program] are boots, gloves, canteens, file drawers, medical supplies and a vast amount of other equipment that is obtained under a regular basis,” Chief Perry said.
The 1033 program, Chief Perry said, helps college police departments acquire special equipment that helps each department in its mission to provide safety and security to their students. The process from applying to actually receiving the equipment is a “fairly extensive registration process, with campus police departments selecting equipment based on campus security needs and what is actually available under the program.” It also helps campus police save money on equipment that they otherwise would have bought outside the program, according to Chief Perry.
With the potential dangers of police militarization in mind, the Florida State police chief also explained the police department’s acquisition of a brand new Army Humvee in 2012, which having an original cost ranging from $200,000 to $250,000, was acquired for the meager price of $1,500 using internal police funds.
Chief Perry said the vehicle would only be used to navigate in severe weather or an active shooter incident. He also went on to state the informative aspects of the vehicle in community outreach events.
“There’s also an educational component that we’ve used multiple times, we have crime prevention events, so it’s educational to talk about what the vehicle means and what it could do for us and not just for an active shooter incident, but also in the terms of potential severe weather,” Chief Perry said.
For those operating the Humvee, Perry said, they must have gone through special training course given by an instructor who has mastered the use of the vehicle, training that is mandatory for the use of all of the university police department’s vehicles, including patrol cars and four wheelers.
At the time of the acquisition, university police informed the campus administration on its Humvee purchase, which was approved under former FSU president Eric Barron.
Some have raised concerns about college police having access to military equipment as a result of the 1033 program.
Mary Anne Franks, an associate professor of law at the University of Miami, told The Chronicle the possibility that such a dangerous event could occur does not justify the acquisition defense-grade military hardware, as much of the danger is derived from police departments being armed with that type of equipment.
She also raised concerns on the effect that the procurement of these weapons and vehicles could have on campus students, which could inhibit the college community’s ability to express themselves and protest.
“It’s not just the question of what happens in any one particular incident, but the tone it sets about what an environment needs to be,” Franks said.
“Chief Perry did not rule out the university police’s further use of the program to acquire additional surplus equipment, saying the university police already have access to semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15 – acquired outside the 1033 program – and that the potential dangers of the university’s urban environment calls for up-to-date security measures.
by JOSEPH ZEBALLOS / staff writer