Military equipment not reducing crime or helping police, new studies suggest

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Two new national studies argue that firepower in policing neither reduces crime nor improves officer safety.

The peer-reviewed research done at the University of Michigan, along with analysts at Emory College and Louisiana State University, were both published in the London-based journal Nature of Human Behaviour.

"The real meaningful contribution made by these papers is they did an incredible amount of leg work to track down more accurate data than what had previously really been out there," Casey Delehanty, a professor at Gardner-Webb University also studying the trend, told ABC11. "We still don't have a systematic nationwide count of how many people are killed by police each year, justifiable or not justifiable. That is not a statistic that is not kept by the United States Government. These sets of papers really gives us incentive to force the government to be a bit more transparent especially when it comes to criminal justice and policing."

In a special investigation, the ABC11 I-Team found more than $44 million in surplus supplies and equipment was sent from the U.S. military to police departments and sheriff's offices in North Carolina at almost no cost the local agencies themselves.

Machetes, armored vehicles among $44 million in surplus supplies sent from military to North Carolina police departments

A subsequent investigation revealed how police departments and sheriff's offices throughout North Carolina have been gearing up and stocking up on military-style equipment, much of which was on display during protests in the days following the death of George Floyd.

"Intuitively it makes sense that more militarized gear would keep officers safe, right?" Delehanty said. "Because anybody who had to go into dangerous situations would probably want to do so in a box made of Kevlar. We would want to do so in a way that is as safe as possible, but increasingly one of the things that we are seeing is that militarized gear allows police to take on more and more aggressive deployments where the aggressiveness of the deployment in itself raises the likelihood that police may become injured in the field."

The 1033 Program transfers surplus weapons, vehicles and other supplies from the U.S. Department of Defense to law enforcement agencies across the country.

While the bulk of items are relatively mundane (first aid kits, clothing, computers, office supplies and even a popcorn maker), data obtained by the I-Team also shows armored vehicles, machetes, rifles and riot shields among tens of thousands of individual items transferred from the U.S. military to North Carolina law enforcement agencies.

Other notable items include helicopters, M4 and M16 rifles and non-lethal weapons.

President Barack Obama paused the program but President Donald Trump later loosened restrictions.

Patrick Yoes, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, the world's largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers, sent a statement to ABC News slamming the two studies as "convoluted logic."

"It has never been the contention of the FOP that surplus military equipment prevents crime, but rather that such equipment plays a critical role in protecting police officers and citizens in life-threatening situations such as active shooters at large, civil disturbances, and natural disasters," Yoes said. "Arguments that police officers in a deadly force situation are not safer in an armored vehicle is at variance with common sense. Sadly, our profession is besieged with demands that we prove the negative, even when the negative premise is flawed."

While it's unclear at this point what the Biden administration is planning, the issue was raised among Governor Roy Cooper's Racial Equity Task Force.

"We want to reduce the crime rate, we want to encourage officer safety and we want to make sure people feel like they can call the police and they are not under attack when engaging with law enforcement," Tarrah Callahan, Executive Director of Conservatives for Criminal Justice Reform and member of the task force, said to ABC11. "We're not going to see improvements with these officer, community relationships unless we address these real harms and perceptions."

Callahan also vouched for better training among police and sheriff's departments so that any equipment is used most efficiently and effectively knowing how little room there is for error.

"Military gear requires a significant level of training that is not part of the basic law enforcement training of North Carolina," she said. "I just think the mindset of police versus the military is very different so when you are coming in with this tear gas and tanks and bayonets, I think you are automatically encouraging a more aggressive stance than we expect of our police. We expect our police to serve and protect, not engage in combat so I don't see how that's helpful. There's got to be a better way."
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