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Lawmakers Concerned Over Police Militarization, But Legislative Fix Uncertain

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State lawmakers heard debate today over the increasing militarization of local police departments in Kentucky and across the nation, but a possible legislative response to the unmitigated flow of military surplus gear to state law enforcement agencies isn’t clear. 

The Department of Defense program, known as “1033,” hands out unused military gear to state and local law enforcement agencies around the country.

Police in Ferguson, Missouri have come under intense criticism for using the gear in response to civil unrest in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting.

Law enforcement agencies in 100 Kentucky counties have received tens of millions of dollars worth of such equipment since 2006, with items ranging from socks to assault rifles.

Jeffersontown Chief of Police Rick Sanders says while he thinks some tweaks to oversight and training should be made, the program itself provides cops with necessary tools.

“There might be room in the middle here,” he said. “The 1033 process takes an application, has to go through a review committee, maybe we need to look at tightening that up. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Dr. Pete Kraska, chair of the Eastern Kentucky University graduate school of justice studies, told a panel of lawmakers that programs like 1033 warp the very nature of civilian law enforcement itself.

“The issue is the normalization of the military model into democratic civilian policing, and a security-first mindset that easily devolves into a type of policing that very few Kentuckians, whether on the political right or left, would perceive as legitimate or appropriate,” Kraska said. 

Many committee members indicated that they would support measures to require training for police using the 1033 items, creating more oversight of the program and investing in community policing efforts, but no legislation has been filed.

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