Growing criticism of a program that provides federal combat gear like armored vehicles to local police prompted the Connecticut Chiefs of Police Association Tuesday to announce a 90-day moratorium on accepting more military equipment.
Critics and some law enforcement experts say the use of such surplus combat gear has “militarized” local and state police forces and contributed to an increase in police violence.
Connecticut police have received $20 million in federal military equipment in recent years, according to a CT Mirror report published on June 12.
In addition to numerous armored vehicles capable of withstanding land mines, police departments in the state have received hundreds of assault-style military weapons, helicopters, riot gear, night-vision goggles and rifle scopes.
Milford Police Chief Keith Mello, president of the chiefs association, said the 90-day moratorium will give Connecticut departments “time to reassess what equipment we have or need.” He said the association’s action was in response to Gov. Ned Lamont’s order this week halting the acceptance of surplus federal military equipment by the Connecticut state police.
Police officials have defended the acceptance and use of such free equipment as essential in hazardous situations such as reports of active shooters, in rescuing people in danger from criminals or disasters like floods and hurricanes.
“Police departments need to be able to respond to some very violent situations,” Mello said. But he also said the chiefs of police believe that “you must have procedures and protocols in place so this equipment is used only at the appropriate time and in an appropriate way that’s safe for everyone.”
“We can’t forget there are some very bad people out there,” Mello said. “If we don’t respond, who will?”
Congress is now considering legislation to end the 1033 military surplus program.
“When you show up with riot gear, armored vehicles and helicopters, you’re just asking for violence,” said Michael Lawlor, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven who served as the top criminal justice advisor to former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Violent clashes between police and demonstrators across the U.S. in recent weeks have highlighted police use of the kind of equipment distributed under the controversial 1033 program. Lawlor believes one reason Connecticut has been spared such violence is that police here responded in a far more restrained way to protests than police in other states.
Lawlor told the CT Mirror that the use of military combat equipment by police changes both the community’s perception of police officers and how the police think about themselves. “If you dress up like a gladiator, you’re going to act like a gladiator,” Lawlor said.
Activists in Connecticut say state lawmakers should prohibit all local police in Connecticut from accepting any more federal combat equipment. The chiefs of police association represents more than 100 municipal and state university police departments around Connecticut.
Former President Barak Obama scaled back the surplus military equipment program for local police following the police response to demonstrations and riots that resulted from the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
President Donald Trump reinstated the full program in 2017.