The recent political crisis in Ferguson, MO put a national spotlight on police militarization. For years, the Department of Defense has been sending military hardware, leftover from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, to local police through its 1033 program. Police departments have been accepting the military-grade hardware, despite its uselessness for purposes of civilian police work, under “what if” justifications. However, after obtaining the items, officials in charge of local police forces have often expanded the scenarios in which military tools are being put to use, resulting in militarized approaches to drug raids and peaceful protests.
NPR recently published an in-depth report on the Department of Defense’s 1033 program, cataloging every military item sent to law enforcement agencies from 2006 through April 23, 2014. Vox pointed out the fact that the cache of weapons donated to local cops included 11,959 bayonets. A bayonet is a spear-like weapon affixed to the end of a rifle that soldiers use as a last resort to gut enemies in close range. While this type of weapon could prove useful on a battlefield, it seems highly unlikely that a police officer could find a justified civilian law enforcement purpose for such a brutal offensive weapon.
The report also noted that 79,288 assault rifles, 205 grenade launchers, 3,972 combat knives, 50 airplanes, and 422 helicopters had been issued to police by April of this year. It is also worth noting that large shipments of weapons have been issued after April of 2014. Vice reported on the fact that grenade launchers have been given to campus police departments.
The controversy over bayonets recently became a political issue in Woodland, CA, after the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services released a report indicating that the Woodland Police Department received 15 bayonets. However, according to KCRA 3, Woodland City Manager Paul Navazio claims that the city did not request the bayonets, has not received them, and could not possibly use them. A recent article on BenSwann.com noted the fact that many local police departments have lost track of some of these donated military weapons, which have since gone missing. Navazio did indicate that local police requested knives through the program, which officers intend to use to cut down marijuana plants during drug busts.
NPR‘s police militarization report does not specify which police department received each item, so it is unclear to which localities the nearly 12,000 bayonets were shipped. In response to widespread outrage over the use of military equipment to police America’s streets, the Obama administration recently ordered an investigation into the Department of Defense’s Excess Property program.