“Scholars rely on accurate data to track and analyze the true effect of police militarization on crime,” stated the report’s lead author, Anna Gunderson, an assistant professor at Louisiana State University. “Policymakers also need accurate data to base their decisions upon. However to date, we do not have reliable data on SME transfers to local police and sheriffs through the federal government.”
President Obama halted the distribution of more extreme SME, like grenade launchers and armored vehicles, after displays of excessive force by police during the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Former President Trump lifted those restrictions in 2017 on the supposed strength of research indicating that militarized law enforcement lowered crime rates. That same year Gunderson and her colleagues from Emory University started examining figures from the 1033 program, a primary provider of SME to local jurisdictions.
“When we looked at the data and ran the replications, nothing looked like the results being cited by the Trump administration,” remarked Gunderson. “We spent a year trying to diagnose the problem.”
A comparison of data from 2014 and 2018 showed SME disappeared from the inventories of some local law enforcement and items appeared in those of others during a period when procuring such equipment was prohibited. Because the information furnished by the Department of Defense proved unreliable, researchers determined that claims that the SME allocations reduced crime could not be sustained.
“This is a cautionary tale about the importance of oversight,” said Tom Clark, a political science professor at Emory. “The most important thing for policy makers and the public to know is that you can’t justify giving surplus military equipment to police departments on the grounds it will lead to a reduction in crime. There is no evidence for that.”
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