September 12, 2017

The Honorable John McCain 
Chair, Senate Armed Services Committee 
218 Russell Senate Office Building 
Washington, DC 20510 

The Honorable Jack Reed 
Ranking Member, Senate Armed Services Committee 
728 Hart Senate Office Building 
Washington, DC 20510 
 
The Honorable Chuck Grassley 
Chair, Senate Committee on the Judiciary 
135 Hart Senate Office Building 
Washington, DC 20510 

The Honorable Dianne Feinstein 
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on the Judiciary 
331 Hart Senate Office Building 
Washington, DC 20510 
 
The Honorable Ron Johnson 
Chair, Senate Homeland Security and 
Governmental Affairs Committee 
328 Hart Senate Office Building 
Washington, DC 20510 

The Honorable Claire McCaskill 
Ranking Member, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee 
503 Hart Senate Office Building 
Washington, DC 20510 

RE: Defense Department 1033 Program and the militarization of police 

Dear Chairmen and Ranking Members:

We are a broad coalition of civil liberties, civil and human rights, and government accountability groups deeply disturbed by the Trump administration’s revocation of President Obama’s 2015 Executive Order 13688 and its ensuing recommendations, which placed critical limits on federal programs that provide military equipment to law enforcement agencies. We have numerous questions and concerns about the future of military-grade weapons in our communities, on our streets, and in our schools. The 2015 reforms included training, record-keeping, and oversight measures for better accountability and transparency, and to ensure that taxpayer dollars were not spent in a wasteful or harmful manner. 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. We urge you to use your leadership in the U.S. Senate to call for a moratorium on the U.S. Department of Defense’s 1033 program—the largest and most prominent federal program providing police departments with military equipment—until Congress holds hearings to provide the public with important assurances and to consider various legislative proposals about this issue.

We have long been engaged in a dialogue with the federal government on the issue of federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies’ (LEAs) use of military equipment and tactics since the troubling militarized response from local police departments to the protests in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. This engagement included regular stakeholder meetings—of law enforcement, advocates, and government officials—with the interagency working group on federal equipment. Despite numerous requests, no meetings were convened this year. We have also met with and heard from communities—most often communities of color—directly impacted by the use of military equipment and tactics by law enforcement. These communities have lost loved ones, fought the acquisition of military equipment for school police, and had their First Amendment rights chilled by officers wielding military weapons on their streets. Finally, we have met with law enforcement leaders who care about their relationships with the communities they serve. What we have learned is this: when the federal government provides police with unfettered access to military equipment, it threatens fundamental constitutional rights, undermines public trust in our government, and is an enormous waste of taxpayer dollars.

We are dismayed that, after years of advocacy and dialogue, we are once again returning to an era in which federal agencies will operate these programs virtually unchecked. This issue is even more pressing given today’s political climate—against a backdrop of increased protests nationwide and President Trump’s inexplicable speech encouraging law enforcement to be “rough.” After the 2015 reforms, LEAs continued to have wide access to and persistently used military equipment and tactics, but allegedly with increased oversight and accountability. Yet, approximately six weeks ago, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an alarming report about the failures of the Department of Defense 1033 program. The GAO created a fictitious LEA and obtained over 100 items—some potentially lethal—valued at $1.2 million. The report recommended a number of changes to improve oversight, management, and control over the 1033 program, which transfers hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer-funded military equipment to LEAs nationwide. 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.

We are troubled by Attorney General Sessions’ mischaracterization of the nature and scope of the 2015 reforms. The 2015 reforms did not—as Attorney General Sessions claimed—focus on “superficial concerns” or limit access to “lifesaving gear.” Following those reforms, most military equipment and weapons continued to be available to LEAs. For some equipment (i.e., “controlled equipment”), LEAs were asked to describe how the equipment would be used and to verify that officers would be appropriately trained. In other words, the 2015 reforms provided critical oversight and accountability, which the public expects of all federal government programs.

Indeed, the 2015 reforms did not restrict access to most equipment used by law enforcement in first responder and rescue operations (including the Kevlar vests mentioned by Attorney General Sessions). The reforms banned a short list of military equipment—notably, the transfer of bayonets, grenade launchers, and other military weapons and vehicles—that would not be needed for narrow circumstances in which imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm exist, such as an exceptional search and rescue operation or active shooter.

Unfettered access to military equipment enables and arguably encourages escalated, military-style tactics and excessive and oftentimes fatal use of force in our streets and, alarmingly, in public schools. Moreover, law enforcement’s use of military equipment disproportionately impacts communities of color, which is particularly unacceptable in the wake of Charlottesville. Therefore, such federal programs—to the extent they provide military equipment or facilitate its acquisition—must be subject to necessary limits and additional oversight due to their corrosive impact on constitutional and community policing and exacerbation of racial tension in this country. We urge you to suspend the controversial 1033 program until Congress and the public understand—through Congressional hearings—what steps the federal government is taking to provide oversight and accountability of these programs. For more information, please contact Madhu Grewal at mgrewal@constitutionproject.org or (202) 580-6939. 

Sincerely, 

18MillionRising.org 
American Civil Liberties Union 
African American Ministers In Action 
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee 
Amnesty International USA 
Bend the Arc Jewish Action 
BMore Awesome Inc. 
Campaign for Youth Justice 
Church of Scientology National Affairs Office 
Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance 
The Constitution Project 
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) 
Defending Rights & Dissent 
Drug Policy Alliance 
Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM) 
Exodus Foundation.org 
First Amendment Coalition 
FreedomWorks 3 
Friends Committee on National Legislation 
Government Information Watch 
Human Rights Watch 
Justice Strategies 
KARAMAH 
Law Enforcement Action Partnership 
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights 
Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights 
Million Hoodies Movement for Justice 
MommieActivist and Sons 
NAACP 
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. 
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers 
National Action Network 
National Association of Social Workers 
National Bar Association 
National Center for Transgender Equality 
National Council of Churches 
National Immigrant Justice Center 
National Juvenile Justice Network 
National LGBTQ Task Force 
New York Civil Liberties Union 
OpenTheGovernment 
Project South 
R Street Institute 
Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) 
Rutherford Institute 
Southern Border Communities Coalition 
Southern Poverty Law Center 
StoptheDrugWar.org 
Strategies for Youth, Inc. 
Students for Sensible Drug Policy 
Sunlight Foundation 
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights 
The Daniel Initiative 
Transformative Justice Coalition 
Transgender Law Center 
Treatment Communities of America 
Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform 
Veterans For Peace 
Women Who Never Give Up 
Youth Justice Coalition 

cc: Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee 
Members of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary 
Members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee 
Members of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee 
Members of the House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary 
Members of the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee
The Honorable Mac Thornberry, Chair, House Armed Services Committee 
The Honorable Adam Smith, Ranking Member, House Armed Services Committee 
The Honorable Bob Goodlatte, Chair, House Committee on the Judiciary 
The Honorable John Conyers Jr., Ranking Member, House Committee on the Judiciary 20515 
The Honorable Trey Gowdy, Chair, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee 
The Honorable Elijah Cummings, Ranking Member, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee 
Members of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee
Members of the House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary
Members of the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee
Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee
Members of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee