Militarized local police? Hard to find information
Militarization of local police departments has become a hot topic due to recent events in Ferguson, Mo., that has lead to a military response to demonstrators in Ferguson by local police forces.
The controversy stems from a federal policy called the 1033 Military Surplus Property Program. The 1033 program allows the Pentagon to send excess military equipment to states upon the requests of their county police departments.
According to the Georgia Department of Public Safety (GDPS) Georgia has received $200 million worth of military equipment since the birth of the 1033 program.
In light of these developments, the first thing that should naturally come to the mind of Fayette County citizens is if their police department is an active participant in the 1033 program.
To find an answer to this question most would think that you should be able contact the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office and ask. Unfortunately doing so would likely result in an “I don’t know” from whoever answers the phone.
The next plausible step would be to look through available online county records. If we look through the Fayette County Operation and Capital budget of 2014 there is a notice on page 76 which states that it “does not pertain to ... property obtained through the Georgia Emergency Management Agency’s 1033 Excess Property Program.” That little tidbit of information indirectly lets us know that Fayette County actually does participate in the 1033 program.
What is really concerning about this is that this shred of information hidden in the depths of the Fayette County budget is literally the only county document accessible to the public that ever alludes to the 1033 program.
In Fayette County, filling out an application for “open access” to public records at the police department is synonymous with writing down your email and a brief description of what your looking for in the hopes that someone will email it to you.
According to an email from Captain Charles R. Cowart of the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department, “We have no 1033 documents on file.” The story is the same at the Justice Center and County Administration offices; both claim to not have any accessible records on the sheriff’s department’s assets.
Fortunately, a Freedom of Information Act request by the New York Times has produced an accessible online listing of all military equipment distributed to counties through the 1033 program. The list shows that Fayette County has received four military 5.56 millimeter rifles and one truck/tank worth almost $90,000.
Hopefully the sheriff’s department finds some sort of documentation pertaining to the military equipment; at this point an instruction manual would suffice. Since public records on the 1033 program in Fayette County don’t exist, it means that the applications that the department was obligated to submit in order to receive four military rifles and a tank aren’t on county public records.
This completely eliminates any possibility of public oversight pertaining to participation in the 1033 program. What if the county needed more equipment for the safety of the public and the department wasn’t adequately fulfilling its duty in applying for them? What if the department has applied for too much equipment and it became harmful to the public? Who answers then?
I don’t think we should wait to see.