Updated – Senators introduce legislation to increase transparency and oversight for law enforcement

Updated, October 6, 2017 — Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) reintroduced the Stop Militarizing Our Law Enforcement Act (S. 1856) to establish limitations and create greater transparency on the federal transfer of surplus military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies.  

Read a summary of the bill and press release from the Senators here

September 13, 2017 – Today, OTG joined a broad coalition of government accountability, civil liberties and civil rights groups, expressing concern over the Trump Administration’s removal of restrictions and transparency requirements for federal programs that flood cities with military weapons. The letter calls for a moratorium on the largest federal program providing police departments with military equipment (the Pentagon’s 1033 program) until Congress holds hearings to consider legislative proposals and ensure that if any transfers are permitted, they are subject to proper oversight and accountability mechanisms.

OTG and our partners have highlighted the secrecy surrounding the Pentagon’s transfers of weapons to the police as one of the core challenges facing criminal justice advocates seeking information for law enforcement accountability initiatives. The oversight and training requirements that were established in 2015 for law enforcement agencies requesting the DOD equipment were stripped away last month, further opening up the program to potential waste, fraud and abuse. A recent government watchdog report exposed just how dangerous the potential for abuse could be, revealing that the program lacks proper safeguards to prevent the weapons from falling into the wrong hands.

“It now falls to Congress to push back against the creeping authoritarianism evidenced by the president’s decision to further militarize law enforcement while shackling oversight,” wrote Lisa Rosenberg, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment, in a recent opinion column. “To pre-empt this administration’s misguided actions, Congress must, at a minimum, assert its oversight authority and put in place requirements to ensure that if any transfers are permitted, they are subject to transparency mandates, and that the Pentagon and police departments remain accountable to the public.”

Read the letters here (Senate, House). 

Additional resources:

Lisa Rosenberg column: Militarizing police under a cloak of secrecy

OTG: Congress should demand greater transparency and oversight for law enforcement, not more militarization

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