What is the Law Enforcement Support Office (US)?

Introduction

The Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) is a division of DLA Disposition Services, a subordinate command of the Defence Logistics Agency (DLA) in the United States.

LESO is responsible for operating the 1033 Programme or LESO Programme, which transfers excess military equipment to non-military law enforcement agencies. The programme legally requires the Department of Defence (DOD) to make various items of equipment available to local law enforcement. The modern programme arose during the George H.W. Bush administration, in Section 1208 of the National Defence Authorisation Act for Fiscal Years 1990 and 1991, which allowed surplus DOD equipment, weapons, and tactical vehicles to be transferred to law enforcement for use in drug enforcement. During the Clinton administration, usage was expanded into other areas, including counter-terrorism. Section 1033 of the National Defence Authorisation Act for Fiscal Year 1997 amended 10 U.S.C. § 2576(a) to allow the military to transfer “property… including small arms and ammunition… suitable for use by the agencies in law enforcement activities, including counter-drug and counter-terrorism activities”. Precedent legislation of the same concept has existed since the end of World War II.

As of 2020, 8,200 local law enforcement agencies participated in the programme that has transferred $5.1 billion in military material from DOD to law enforcement agencies since 1997. According to the DLA, material worth $449 million was transferred in 2013 alone. Some of the most commonly requested items include ammunition, cold weather clothing, sand bags, medical supplies, sleeping bags, flashlights and electrical wiring. Small arms and vehicles such as aircraft, watercraft, and armoured vehicles have also been obtained.

The program has been criticised over the years by local media, by the DOD Inspector General in 2003, and by the GAO which found waste, fraud, and abuse. It was not until media coverage of police during the 2014 Ferguson unrest that the programme drew nationwide public attention; the Ferguson Police Department had used equipment obtained through the 1033 Programme. The ACLU and the NAACP have raised concerns about what they call the militarisation of police forces in the United States.

President Obama signed Executive Order 13688 in May 2015 limiting and prohibiting certain types of equipment; On 28 August 2017, President Trump rolled back the Executive Order. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the move at the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) convention in Nashville, and said the president would do so by executive order. At the same time, Sessions and the director of the FOP pointed out that equipment obtained through the programme can be used for lifesaving purposes, dismissing criticism of the programme as “superficial concerns”. The FOP also pointed out that the armoured vehicles were not tanks.

Brief History

1943 to 1949 (Predecessor)

In 1944, the Surplus Property Act provided for the disposal of surplus government property, and spawned numerous short lived agencies like the Surplus War Property Administration (SWPA), in the Office of War Mobilization (OWM, February to October 1944), the Surplus Property Board (SPB), in the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion (OWMR, October 1944 to September 1945), the Surplus Property Administration and also corporations like the Petroleum Reserves Corporation (PRC) and the War Assets Corporation to deal with it. The War Assets Administration was the latest to operate and was abolished in 1949.

1990 to 2014

The National Defence Authorization Act of 1990, section 1208 authorised transfer of military hardware from the Department of Defence broadly to “federal and state agencies”, but specifically “for use in counter-drug activities”. as this legislation was passed in the context of the War on Drugs. Until 1997, it was called the 1208 programme and run by the Department of Defence from the Pentagon and its regional offices.

In 1995, the “Law Enforcement Support Office” was created within the DLA to work exclusively with law enforcement.

With passage of the National Defence Authorisation Act for Fiscal Year 1997, the 1208 programme was expanded to the 1033 programme allowing “all law enforcement agencies to acquire property for bona fide law enforcement purposes that assist in their arrest and apprehension mission”, and that “Preference is given to counter-drug and counter-terrorism requests”. It was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on 23 September 1996.

In October the DLA Disposition Services first released information about the equipment distribution by county. An inflection point occurred in the fall 2014 after several events brought increasing public scrutiny, and the eventual release of Federal records on the movement of military goods to police forces was made public on 21 November 2014.

Description

The US Defence Logistics Agency Disposition Services (DLA) helps the DOD dispose of its “excess property… from air conditioners to vehicles, clothing to computers” via “transfer to other federal agencies, or donation to state and local governments and other qualified organizations”, as well as by “sale of surplus property”. Availability of surplus equipment has been facilitated by the reduced American presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 1033 programme is designed to specifically work with law enforcement agencies, such as local police forces, school district police and others.

Material Donated

From 1997 until 2014, $5.1 billion in military hardware were transferred from DOD to local American law enforcement agencies, according to LESO, and material worth $449 million was transferred in 2013 alone. About a third of the equipment is new. The most commonly obtained item from the 1033 programme is ammunition. Other most commonly requested items include cold weather clothing, sand bags, medical supplies, sleeping bags, flashlights, and electrical wiring. The DLA also offers tactical armoured vehicles, weapons, watercraft, and aircraft.

Police Departments

As of 2014, 8,000 local law enforcement agencies participate in the reutilization programme. Police departments are responsible for paying for shipment and storage of material acquired, but do not pay for the donation. The largest number of requests for material comes from small to mid-sized police departments who are unable to afford extra clothing, vehicles and weapons. The programme gives smaller police departments access to material that larger police departments are usually able to afford without federal assistance. A memorandum of agreement between the DLA and the states participating in 1033 requires that local police forces either utilise the military equipment within one year or return it. The rules allow police to dispose of or sell some goods after at least one year of usage.

School Districts

As of September 2014 more than twenty school district police agencies received military-grade equipment through the programme.] The San Diego school district planned to return a military surplus vehicle after negative public reaction.

The Los Angeles School Police Department has also received excess military equipment, including 61 assault rifles, three grenade launchers, and an MRAP vehicle. Ten School Police Departments in Texas also participate in the 1033 programme, in total acquiring 25 automatic pistols, 64 M16 assault rifles, 18 M14 battle rifles, 15 vehicles and tactical vests.

As of 2014, at least 117 colleges and universities in the United States have used the 1033 programme to acquire military-grade equipment through their campus police departments. Higher education institutions that participate in the program include local community colleges, state universities, and Ivy Leagues, ranging from Hinds Community College, University of Central Florida, University of California, Columbia University, and Yale.

In 2012, the University of California at Berkeley attempted to use the federal program to acquire an Armoured Response Counter Attack Truck, also referred to as a Lenco BearCat, to deal with possible campus shootings, but public outcry forced UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgenau to reverse procurement of the eight-ton armoured truck. In 2013, Ohio State University acquired an MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle, becoming the first campus in the US to integrate this kind of military-grade equipment into their campus police department. Florida State University used the program to acquire a Humvee, which campus police say is only to be used in the case of an active shooter, not a civil disturbance. Central Washington University has also received an armoured truck through the program, claiming the truck is used to train for active-shooter scenarios. The most popular military equipment acquired by colleges and universities through the 1033 programme is the M16. Campus police at the Arizona State University currently hold the most M16’s with a total of 70, followed by Florida International University and the University of Maryland, which both carry 50 M16’s.

The Department of Defence has provided a variety of military and police equipment to both private and public universities across the country. Equipment allocated has ranged from gauze, trousers, and other basic supplies, to armoured vehicles, grenade launchers, and M-16 assault rifles. Many spokespersons for colleges and universities that received this military equipment have cited cost efficiency as the main motivation for engaging in this partnership, including University of Florida’s dean of students Jen Day Shaw, who stated that the programme “is a cost savings for taxpayers.”

Participating campus departments pay only for delivery and maintenance of allocated military supplies, paying a mere $507.43 for as many as 12 M-16 rifles (University of Louisiana at Monroe). If colleges and universities seek to acquire material not obtainable directly through the 1033 programme, like other local law enforcement agencies, they may purchase said equipment through federal grants allocated by the DOD. Another justification for involvement in the 1033 programme is the epidemic of school shootings on US campuses, with many college and university representatives citing the Virginia Tech shooting as reason for concern and increased militarisation of campus police departments.

In instances where campus police departments fail to or do not directly attempt to acquire excess military material from the 1033 programme, partnership with local and regional law enforcement through mutual aid allows colleges and universities to indirectly benefit from the programme by utilising military equipment obtained by law enforcement agencies in the surrounding area. Where police jurisdiction overlaps between college and universities and the municipal area they inhabit, the acquisition of material such as an MRAP by a municipal law enforcement agency can substitute acquisition by a campus police department, as was the case between the city of Davis, CA and the University of California at Davis in 2014.

Oversight

Law enforcement agencies must declare the intended use for each item, maintain an audit trail for each item and conduct inventory checks for DLA. Firearms, certain vehicles and other equipment must be returned to the Defence Department after use. “For security reasons [1033 program record] information is not subject to public review”, per DLA.

A state coordinating agency in each US state, except for Hawaii, headed by a state coordinator that is appointed by the state governor must approve an application, and is supposed to function as oversight after dispersion of equipment. The state coordinating agency is housed within a state agency that varies from state to state, for example in the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, the Alaska Department of Public Safety and so on. The fact that in Arizona a Payson, Arizona Police Department Detective, was appointed as the state coordinator, made it easier for Paul Babeu, Sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona to amass “more than $7 million worth of Humvees, fire trucks, firearms, defibrillators, barber chairs, underwear, thermal-imaging scopes, computers, motor scooters and other in 2010-2012, which he told county supervisors he would auction off to balance his budget. This is because the detective had appointed an office grants administrator in the Pinal County Sheriff Office to help him “oversee and authorize military-surplus requisitions”. The Sheriff’s speaker described it as chance to cherry-pick, “as we can start approving our own requests”. After the Arizona Republic newspaper expose the DLA “announced agency-wide reforms, and Sheriff Paul Babeu was directed to retrieve vehicles and other equipment his office distributed to non-police organizations” and “about the same time, weapons requisitions were temporarily suspended and audited nationwide.

In 2003, a Defence Department Inspector General audit found incorrect or inadequate documentation in about three-quarters of the transactions analysed, declaring 1033 Programme records unreliable.

In 2005, the Government Accountability Office found that the Pentagon “does not have management controls in place” to avert waste, abuse and fraud in the programme. Investigators identified “hundreds of millions of dollars in reported lost, damaged, or stolen excess property … which contributed to reutilization program waste and inefficiency.”

Political Responses

In August 2014, the militarised response to civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri led to increased criticism of the 1033 programme:

  • US senator Rand Paul, a Republican, stated that the American government “has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts and helped municipal governments build what are essentially small armies.”
  • Congressman Hank Johnson, a Democrat, drafted legislation proposing to curb, but not end the 1033 programme, urged legislative armed services committee to suspend the transfer of some equipment.
  • President Obama ordered a review of the programme.

In September 2014, Senator Claire McCaskill organised the Senate’s first hearing on the programme, and federal officials faced bipartisan criticism:

  • Brian Kamoie, assistant administrator for grant programs at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, stated that officials are conducting a review to determine if police forces deployed in Ferguson improperly used equipment purchased with the grants for riot suppression, which is not allowed. It was inconclusive from the questioning, how many times equipment was purchased with funds used to combat terrorism.
  • Rear Admiral John Kirby, press secretary for the Pentagon, argued that the program has aided law enforcement across the US in counter-terrorism and counter-narcotic operation, and to protect civilians. He stated that the Pentagon was diligent in deciding what equipment was sent to specific police departments.
  • Chuck Canterbury, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, argued that mass shootings could occur anywhere in the United States, even in small towns, and that the equipment obtained from the 1033 programme is being used to protect civilians and law enforcement.
  • Congressman Buck McKeon scheduled a United States House Committee on Armed Services subcommittee “Oversight and Investigations” hearing to examine the programme, which was postponed.
  • The House Judiciary Committee declined to review the programme, stating that any review would follow an investigation by the Obama administration.

In October 2014,

  • Congressman Hank Johnson urged the heads of the Armed Services Committees to adopt a moratorium on the transfer of certain items and to eliminate a section of the House version of the 2015 Defence bill, passed earlier in 2014, that would expand equipment transfers to border security, the nation’s largest law enforcement agency.

In November 2014,

  • Rand Paul’s second Ferguson op-ed in Time did not mention the demilitarisation of the police, which had been subject of his first op-ed.
  • Steve Rabinovich, a police officer writing for police website PoliceOne.com, defended the 1033 program as necessary for protecting police officers from violent or deadly assaults by individuals or anti-government groups viewing police as scapegoats.
  • The House Committee on Armed Services reviewed the programme, interviewed four witnesses, including the president of the Police Foundation, the director of the National Tactical Officers Association, and two employees of the Department of Defence and their heads, Reps. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.) are working on a compromise of the 2015 defence authorisation bill, instead of a moratorium.
  • Senator McCaskill suggested that “Congress would seek to better train police to use transferred equipment”.
  • The White House had not released results of its review, promised in September, when National Guard of the United States was deployed to Ferguson and further unrest occurred after the grand jury decision in Ferguson. Police lobbying efforts, and the elections had rendered Congress lame duck, and the support for ending or changing the 1033 programme dwindled.

In May 2015, following the 2015 Baltimore protests, Obama announced reviews of the use of military equipment, stating “We’ve seen how militarized gear sometimes gives people a feeling like they are an occupying force as opposed to a part of the community there to protect them,” and “Some equipment made for the battlefield is not appropriate for local police departments.”

Other Criticism

Kara Dansky, senior counsel for the ACLU, wrote that the federal government is deliberately militarising local law enforcement agencies.

According to a study by social scientist Dr. Casey Delehanty and colleagues, larger 1033 transfers are associated with increased killings by police.

Following the nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd in spring 2020, news media have written critically on the topic of police and the militarisation of police attitudes and behaviour that typically comes along with the procurement of military equipment from the Federal government.

Police Department Suspensions

DLA public-affairs chief Kenneth MacNevin stated in 2012, that “more than 30 Arizona police agencies have been suspended or terminated for failing to meet programme standards and nine remain under suspension”. One of them was the Maricopa County, Arizona law enforcement after failing to account for 20 of the 200 military weapons it had received. The suspension did not affect police acquisition of high powered weaponry due to anti-racketeering or confiscated drug funds, according to Maricopa’s Sheriff.

In North Carolina, law officials are working to reinstate the 1033 programme through more rigorous inventory management, after the state was suspended for failing to account for some transferred equipment. North Carolina officials state that 3,303 out of the 4,227 pieces of equipment obtained through the programme are tactical items including automatic weapons and military vehicles and the remainder is not used in combat, and includes cots, containers and generators.

Fusion reported in August 2014 that a total of 184 state and local police departments had been suspended from the programme for missing weapons and failure to comply with guidelines. Missing items included M14 and M16 assault rifles, pistols, shotguns, and two Humvee vehicles.

Investigative journalist Susan Katz Keating reported in October 2017 that certain elements of the programme were restored despite the compliance issues.

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_Enforcement_Support_Office >; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

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