Hardware designed for war exerts subtle pressure on police culture, experts say.
Americans have seen it time and again in recent months on the nightly news: Protesters in the streets confronted by local police officers carrying assault rifles, some atop armored vehicles, looking more like soldiers than public servants.
Much of that equipment has trickled down to police departments from a controversial Defense Department initiative known as the 1033 program, a 30-year-old federal initiative that provides a way for the military to dispose of surplus equipment by sending it to local police.
The impact on policing has been huge. In Georgia alone, police departments and sheriff’s offices have received more than 2,700 military rifles, night vision goggles and laser gun sights, and literally hundreds of armored vehicles, including more than two dozen mine-resistant vehicles built to fight the war on terror abroad.
To get the military equipment, police departments pay only for the shipping costs. But that does not mean the program comes without other costs.