The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was formed under the Bush Administration in 2002, as a response to 9/11. In 2014, the DHS has 240,000 employees, and among other things, it is responsible for giving police departments grants for military equipment.
Grants given to local police departments from the DHS have received a great deal of scrutiny recently, after protests in Ferguson, Missouri were met with militarized local law enforcement.
The Executive Director for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and a columnist for The Guardian, Trevor Timm, referred to the DHS as the “primary arms dealer for out-of-control local cops in Ferguson and beyond,” and criticized the fact that the DHS was “handing out tens of billions of dollars in grants for military equipment in the last decade with little to no oversight and even less training on how use it.”
“From an oversight perspective, DHS grant programs are pretty much a mess,” an anonymous congressional aide told The Guardian. “They don’t know what’s been bought with the money, how that equipment has been used, or whether it’s made anyone measurably any safer.”
An audit from 2012 found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is in charge of overseeing the grant program, “exists with little oversight.”
“FEMA did not have a system in place to determine the extent that Homeland Security Grant Program funds enhanced the states’ capabilities to prevent, deter, respond to and recover from terrorist attacks, major disasters and other emergencies before awarding more funds to the states,” the audit said.
Timm pointed out that although the DHS doesn’t have missiles like the ones used in Pakistan and Yemen, it does have its own “fleet of Predator drones roaming the US border and far beyond, which it has loaned out to police over 500 times for myriad unknown reasons.”
“Homeland Security is also handing out millions of dollars to local police to ‘accelerate and facilitate the adoption’ of smaller drones that police can fly themselves,” wrote Timm. “Cops claim they want these ‘middleman’ drones for ’emergencies,’ but in places like California’s Alameda county, documents show they’ll end up using them for ‘crowd control’ and ‘intelligence gathering.'”
The criticism of Homeland Security’s actions was so great, that according to the New York Times, the White House announced that they would conduct a review regarding “whether the government should continue providing such equipment and, if so, whether local authorities have sufficient training to use it appropriately.”