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Researchers Find Law Enforcement Use of Military Equipment Program Varies Nationwide

September 22, 2016

The federal government’s 1033 program allows the U.S. Department of Defense to transfer excess military equipment to local law enforcement agencies, from armored vehicles to M-16 rifles to office furniture. A team of geographers in the University of Idaho’s College of Science has found that agencies across the nation access this program at different rates, and likely for reasons tied to location.

The researchers — assistant professor Steven Radil, associate professor Raymond Dezzani and graduate student Lanny McAden — examined data released by the Department of Defense about the 1033 Program from 2006 to 2013. They mapped at the county level where law enforcement agencies used the program, how much equipment they received and how much that equipment was worth.

Watching the 2014 clashes between protestors in Ferguson, Missouri, and police wearing military-style equipment spurred the research, Radil said. By applying geography to the social issue of police militarization, the researchers hope to increase understanding of the motives behind and effects of police use of military equipment, to the benefit of law enforcement agencies and the public.

“The 1033 program is something that’s been operating outside of the public’s view for a very long time, and it may be something that’s contributing to problems between police and the public in certain places,” Radil said. “The problems we see between police and minority communities or police and the public at large are a place-based problem.”

The researchers’ initial findings, published this month in The Professional Geographer, showed pockets of heavy 1033 use in some parts of the United States, and almost none in other parts. This distribution was not tied to county population, indicating use is not related to areas with large police departments or SWAT teams.

Southwestern states, including Arizona, New Mexico and Southern California, and Southeastern states — Alabama, Georgia and Florida — had the highest rates of 1033 Program transfers and total equipment values.

Brevard County, Florida, along the Atlantic coast near Orlando, brought in nearly $210 million worth of equipment from 2006 to 2013, the most of any county in the nation. El Paso County, Texas, had the highest number of equipment transfers at 177,695. When the researchers mapped total equipment value per capita, counties in rural Montana and northern Maine rose to the top of list.

Areas with little or no 1033 use included several Great Plains states, rural Texas and Pennsylvania.

The researchers say the patterns they’ve found show that police militarization is not a nationwide phenomenon, but rather is strongly tied to location.

“The fact that there may be different motives for using or not using the program is something we should take seriously,” Radil said.

The next step is determining place-specific reasons for 1033 program use, which the researchers said could include racial tensions, the drug trade, immigration, search and rescue needs and responses to major crimes. They are pursuing these reasons by adding more demographic data to their map as well as noting the locations of officer-involved shootings, violence against police, drug-related crimes and mass shootings. They also plan to examine whether crime statistics or community-police relations change in areas that receive large 1033 program transfers.

“This is something geographers do really well – looking at locality and context and how that affects human behavior,” Dezzani said.

Media Contact:
Tara Roberts
University Communications
208-885-7097
troberts@uidaho.edu

About the University of Idaho

The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 12,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky Conference. Learn more at uidaho.edu