- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A coalition of civil rights groups is asking Congress to implement a moratorium on a controversial program that provides surplus military equipment to local police departments until lawmakers can improve oversight of the program.

The Trump administration in August repealed Obama-era restrictions on the Defense Department’s 1033 program, which has provided billions of dollars of equipment ranging from night-vision goggles to armored vehicles to local law enforcement.

Advocates of police reform have been critical of the Trump administration changes, concerned they allow for militarization of local law enforcement agencies in a manner that strains relationships with the communities they serve.

“We ask you to exercise your oversight responsibilities to ensure that, if military equipment is provided to law enforcement, such equipment is not overused and misused,” the coalition of groups, which include the ACLU and the NAACP, wrote to leaders of the several House committees.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the policy change, saying the Obama-era restrictions went too far.

The changes implemented by the Trump administration scraped oversight and training requirements adopted by President Obama. They also restored departments’ ability to acquire equipment that was previously banned — such as bayonets and grenade launchers — and did away with requirements that agencies explain the need for other items and verify that officers would be trained how to use the equipment.

More than $5.4 billion in surplus military gear has been transferred to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies under the 1033 program since 1997.

In their request, the civil rights groups pointed to a recent Government Accountability Office report that found oversight of the program was lacking. As part of their audit, investigators from the GAO were able to obtain $1.2 million worth of surplus military equipment after pretending to be a police department.

“We are stunned that, in the wake of this report, the Trump administration has determined the best course of action is to remove all oversight over the 1033, and similar, federal programs,” the groups said.

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