Senate

Senate rejects broad restrictions on transfers of military-grade equipment to police

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The Senate on Tuesday rejected a proposal to place broad restrictions on the transfer of military-grade equipment to local police departments.

Senators voted 51-49 on an amendment, spearheaded by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), to a mammoth defense bill, falling short of the 60 votes needed.

GOP Sens. Steve Daines (Mont.), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Rand Paul (Ky.) supported the amendment.

Schatz’s proposals included broad limits on what can’t be transferred, including tracked combat vehicles, weaponized drones, bayonets, grenade launchers and certain gases including tear gas. Schatz’s amendment would not have prohibited the transfer of defensive equipment. 

“Our amendment will permanently prohibit the transfer of lethal military weapons to police departments,” Schatz said ahead of the vote.

“Our communities are not battlefields. The American people are not enemy combatants,” he added.

The transfer of military-style equipment to local police departments has been in the spotlight amid scrutiny over the police response to recent protests sparked by the death of George Floyd while detained by police in Minneapolis.

Former President Obama curtailed the program in 2015 after local police suppressed protests in Ferguson, Mo., using military-grade equipment. But the Trump administration rescinded the restrictions in 2017.

Instead the Senate approved a narrower amendment from Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, that only limits the transfer of bayonets, grenades, weaponized tracked combat vehicles and weaponized drones. Inhofe’s amendment also requires law enforcement to be trained in de-escalation and citizens’ constitutional rights.

Inhofe’s amendment was added to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in a 90-10 vote.

Inhofe, speaking before the vote, said he was against Schatz’s amendment and argued that the program, known as 1033, is needed given the ongoing protests and riots.

“We need to be continuing this transparent, responsive program,” he said. “People are trying to play down law enforcement, trying to break the law, trying to say it’s acceptable. This has never happened before in America, but that’s what we’re seeing right now.” 

Tags Brian Schatz Cory Gardner James Inhofe Lisa Murkowski Military equipment Police Rand Paul Senate Steve Daines Steven Daines

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