May 29, 2024
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Weinberg and Gill Seek State Oversight of DOD Transfer Programs

Trenton–Two bills sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Senator Nia H. Gill to increase transparency and oversight of the federal Department of Defense 1033 program in New Jersey were approved last Tuesday by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee. The federal program provides for the transfer of surplus military equipment from the federal government to local law enforcement agencies.

The use of military equipment by local law enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting death of Michael Brown, including the deployment of tanks on the streets in demonstration areas, brought increased public scrutiny to the 1033 program and raised questions about the appropriate use of equipment obtained through the program. In the weeks following the events in Ferguson, Senator Gill sought information from the state Attorney General’s office on the operation of the federal program in New Jersey and the oversight procedures that governed it. Through correspondence with the Attorney General, she learned that law enforcement agencies in New Jersey have received over $50 million in military equipment since Oct. 2013, with $30 million more on the way.

“Local police departments are an important part of the community and must operate in a way that builds trust and confidence in the officers by the residents they are sworn to protect,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “Any acquisition of military equipment by a local agency must be done under defined guidelines established by law. The decision to obtain equipment through this program should be made by the local government, and approved only after the chief law enforcement officer of the state has determined that it is appropriate and necessary and that the department is trained for its use.”

The legislation also establishes a review and reporting requirement. Under the bill, the Attorney General would direct the Office of Emergency Management to review the program in the state. Based on the findings, the Attorney General, in consultation with the State Police Superintendent, Director of Division of Criminal Justice and county prosecutors, would determine if the policies, procedures and guidelines governing the program should be revised. The Attorney General would be required to annually report to the Governor, the Senate President and Assembly Speaker on the program.

“The federal government has recognized a need for increased oversight of military equipment transfers to local police departments. We have a responsibility to make sure that clear policies are in place in New Jersey to protect the safety of the public,” said Senator Gill. “Locally, residents should have an opportunity to weigh in on whether their community’s police department should have riot shotguns or assault weapons, such as M16s or M14s. The governing body should then decide whether the equipment is appropriate for the town, taking into account a host of factors including the costs associated with acquiring and maintaining it. If the local governing body after receiving input from the public approves, the Attorney General should make the final decision based on defined parameters established for the program.”

The Senate approved both bills unanimously in December. The bills next go to the Assembly for consideration before heading to the governor’s desk.

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