© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Pentagon Says Ferguson Did Not Get All That Military Gear From Its Program

Pentagon Press Secretary Admiral John Kirby
Jim Howard | St. Louis Public Radio

One day after two Missouri members of Congress met with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to express their concerns over a Defense Department program that provides local law enforcement agencies with surplus property, the Pentagon said that most of what it makes available to police does not include so called tactical gear or weapons.

Pentagon Press Secretary Admiral John Kirby told reporters that 95 percent of the property transferred to local law enforcement through the 1033 program is “shelving, office equipment, communications gear, that kind of stuff, furniture,” said Kirby.

Kirby said it is important to know that the military is not the only source of tactical gear used by law enforcement in this country. He said that after seeing images of heavily armed police in Ferguson, he can understand how people would look at that and say "Well gee, look at all that military gear.” But he quickly clarified that it did not come from the U.S. military, "it doesn’t belong to us and we didn’t provide it to them.”

As for equipment Ferguson has received from the program, Kirby said that included two “soft-skinned” Humvees, meaning without armor, a generator and a trailer.

Reps. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, and Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, described their meeting Thursday evening with Hagel as being “productive, expansive and very encouraging.” But in his press briefing Friday, Kirby said that Hagel had not made any decision on conducting a review of the program, instead describing the defense secretary as “still very much gathering information about it,” Kirby said. A day before Hagel met with the congressmen, he met with members of his senior staff and asked “lots of probing deep questions about this program and how it’s operated,” said Kirby.

Reps. Clay and Cleaver are pushing Hagel to make changes to the program, fearing that it contributes to the militarization of local law enforcement agencies. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., announced plans this week to hold hearings on the issue. She chairs the subcommittee on Financial & Contracting Oversight. In her announcement, McCaskill says she wants to look at the Defense Department’s 1033 program and grants made through the Department of Homeland Security. McCaskill said she plans to hear from people on all sides of the issue, including local law enforcement.

Kirby says that as officials examine the 1033 program it is important that they keep the entire program in proper perspective. Kirby said that Hagel “wants to make sure that we’re striking the right balance, that the right stuff is being transferred and that the proper accountability is in place,” Kirby said. “But he’s also mindful that it’s not a good place for the republic for the Pentagon to be holding strings or carrots and sticks out to local law enforcement.” Kirby added that there’s a reason the Pentagon is not involved in local law enforcement activity and he said Hagel, in examining the 1033 program, “wants to make sure that we maintain our proper place inside this democracy.”