The bill’s supporters are in the tank for Trump — literally.
Since 1997, the so-called 1033 Program allows the U.S. military to loan its surplus or extra equipment to law enforcement agencies around the country. Through the years, that has included items such as armored trucks, bayonets, and grenade launchers.
These are considered loans because the property still technically belongs to the Department of Defense, so in theory they could ask for it back, although in practice that rarely happens. However, it does happen occasionally — under an Obama administration executive order, all 138 grenade launchers loaned out on the program through the years were prohibited and returned in 2015–16.
The 1033 Program was nicknamed after the portion of federal law which greenlit the program: Section 1033 of a 1996 military appropriations law. The legislation wasn’t especially controversial at the time, with the omnibus legislation passing 285–132 in the House and 73–26 in the Senate.
In recent years, however, the program has come under fire — mostly by Democrats — for going too far in militarizing local and state law enforcement. This came to the attention of millions of Americans during the summer 2014 racial justice protests in Ferguson, Missouri, an otherwise little-known city which deployed armored vehicles and other military-style equipment in response.
A few months later, in January 2015, President Barack Obama issued an executive order limiting the program, though not eliminating it entirely as some on the left called for. In August 2017, President Donald Trump repealed that executive order, restoring the 1033 Program to full strength. Some Democrats are calling for President Joe Biden to limit it once again, though so far Biden has demurred.
What the bill does
The Protect Our Police Act would codify that Trump-era policy into law, preventing Biden or another Democratic president from unilaterally limiting the 1033 Program once more.
Even if the program was limited or even outright repealed, police could still acquire military-style gear in lots of ways; the 1033 Program is but one. For example, some Ferguson police officers wore camouflage uniforms, which are prohibited for loaning under the 1033 Program, but the Ferguson police likely bought them commercially.
It was introduced in the House on April 1 as H.R. 2314, by Rep. Bob Good (R-VA5).
What supporters say
Supporters argue that both the executive order and this bill save lives and are critical for homeland security.
“It is imperative that federal, state, and local law enforcement maintain access to life-saving military equipment used to protect and save the lives of Americans, especially in circumstances of terrorist attacks, search-and-rescue operations, and natural disasters,” Rep. Good said in a press release. “This legislation will ensure that our law enforcement have the necessary equipment to fulfill their job duties, keeping communities safe.”
What opponents say
Opponents counter that this equipment has no place on the streets of America.
“Decades of militarization of our nation’s law enforcement have led to some police departments looking more like an occupying army than a community-based regulatory arm of state and local government,” 29 House Democrats wrote in an April letter to Biden, urging him to issue an executive order similar to Obama’s. “Law enforcement’s response to the civil rights demonstrations last summer show irrefutable proof of our police forces’ increasing aggression and brutality — images of local police in military vehicles, with military-grade weaponry trained on citizens exercising their constitutional right to peacefully protest.”
Many of those signatories have also cosponsored the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, which would limit the 1033 Program through legislation rather than executive order.
Odds of passage
The bill has attracted 13 cosponsors, all Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee.
Odds of passage are low in the Democratic-controlled Congress.