By Alfred Regnery, LE Action Chairman
“Police killed on the job: Number spikes in 2017," screams the headline in Newsweek. The next headline might be “Another Officer Shot While Making Arrest," or perhaps “Cop Assaulted For No Apparent Reason.” This week’s headline might read “Houston Police Shortage of Helicopters Imperils Rescue Efforts.”
There is a war on the police, and it is getting more serious day by day. The number of police officers killed by a firearm on duty increased 56 percent during 2016 over the previous year, and the total number of police killed on duty was up another 18 percent from July 2016 to July of this year. On Aug. 19, six officers were shot in a single night, two fatally. In July, officer Miosotis Familia, who had served the New York Police Department faithfully for a dozen years, was assassinated while sitting in her police van.
The phrase “war on cops” has become all too-familiar, and any officer will tell you it is real. It’s what has become known as “The Ferguson Effect.” And sad to say, activities perpetrated during the Obama years, particularly by Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch’s Justice Department, made things worse.
To correct the problem, law enforcement needs all the resources—including surplus military equipment—it can get its hands on, and Donald Trump took a positive step to put law enforcement on a more equal footing with criminals—and with tropical storms. He signed an executive order on Monday that reinstates the Defense Department policy of providing surplus military equipment to law enforcement agencies. Since 1990, that program resulted in the transfer of over $5 billion in surplus military gear to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies; the effort was expanded by Congress in 1997 to emphasize the transfer of equipment to agencies involved in counter-drug and counter-terrorism efforts.
Trump’s executive order tosses out Obama’s Executive Order 13688, signed in 2015, which resulted in curtailing the program. The renewal of the program—highly popular with law enforcement—will have a positive impact on the fight against violent crime, drug trafficking and terrorism. Trump's action is consistent with candidate Trump’s campaign promise to support law enforcement at every opportunity—a promise which he has consistently upheld.
Although some major equipment such as armored personnel carriers, tanks and grenade launchers were transferred, the bulk of the items were things like clothing, rifles and ammunition, rescue equipment, computers and riot shields and helmets. Police departments are more often than not under-funded, and the items obtained from the military were often a god-send to the police. Obama’s termination of the program, like so many of his misguided efforts, accomplished nothing positive, and has put law enforcement at a distinct disadvantage. The president’s new executive order should begin to change that.
Criticism of the program, particularly from anti-police forces on the left, included the usual gross exaggerations, claiming the result of the program was the systematic militarization of law enforcement. Media accounts invariably used pictures of tanks storming poor sections of a major city or a cop, outfitted in camouflage-style military combat gear aiming a grenade launcher at a homeless woman.
In fact, the effect of the department of defense program has been dramatic: According to two academic studies, the use of military equipment by law enforcement reduces crime, reduces assaults on police and increases arrest rates for major crimes such as use of deadly weapons and drug trafficking. In the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, for example, police were able to surround the building with surplus armored vehicles and other equipment, protecting lives of the people inside and ultimately shooting and killing the terrorists.
The Justice Department reports that every dollar of military gear provided to local law enforcement, there is a saving of nearly $20 from prevented crimes.
The Obama executive order, freezing the transfer of military equipment to law enforcement, was one of the meaningless, transparent actions he was so good at that made certain of his base happy while hurting the general population. As Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a speech to the Fraternal Order of Police this week, the Trump administration “will not put superficial concerns above public safety. All you need to do is turn on a television right now to see that for Houstonians this isn’t about appearances, it is about getting the job done and getting everybody to safety.”
The president’s new executive order will do exactly that.