Police With Military Gear: Better Training Needed
Admittedly, I laughed when I saw — on a comedy show — that a rural police department had made a video showing off its huge new armored vehicle. That vehicle came from the Department of Defense's 1033 program, through which the Pentagon transfers excess military equipment to civilian law-enforcement agencies. The program, authorized by the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act, was in part a response to criticisms of the U.S. leaving behind mountains of equipment after the first Gulf War.
The 1033 program is valuable — but there are also problems with it, largely stemming from a lack of training. In fact, there are no national training standards at all for the SWAT teams that participate. This is why I agree with the decision by President Barack Obama and Congress to review the 1033 program, and why I strongly urge the adoption of training standards for all tactical officers. Thankfully, the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA), in partnership with the International Academy of Public Safety, appears to be stepping up to the challenge.
Some critics express doubt that domestic police can benefit from military equipment. But as a congressional staffer, and later as a think-tank analyst, I've traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times over the past decade — and I can attest that the military's high-tech gear, from sensors to flying unmanned aerial vehicles, is astounding. And in fact, this technology can be incredibly useful for domestic law enforcement, which is forced to deal with threats ranging from well-armed criminals, to school shooters, to even terrorists. From improved situational awareness to improved safety gear, the applications are numerous.
Further, this gear is often used here by the very same people who used it overseas, because members of the military sometimes become SWAT officers upon returning home. We are lucky to have such brave and well-trained officers protecting our streets.
But critics of the 1033 program have a point. Even former military members need training before they can apply their knowledge to domestic situations. As our Marines heroically displayed during the Second Battle of Fallujah, our military personnel have been well trained to clear a city door-to-door during combat operations. In a similar fashion, our U.S. Air Force and Army brethren have become extremely adept at surveillance and delivering effects overseas. These are valuable skills, but an entirely different set of policies and procedures apply when they are used on our own shores.
That's where the NTOA Academy comes in. Scheduled to launch next year, the academy will train tactical officers both online and in person. After addressing the key concepts, the academy will teach officers to use those skills to resolve some of the most complex, challenging, and high-risk incidents they could face in their own communities.
The new academy will also be developing national certifications for operators, instructors, and command-staff personnel. In other words, it will ensure that all tactical officers who complete the courses meet the highest levels of training on military equipment, with domestic law-enforcement applications in mind.
Over the past 15 years, our nation has invested trillions in military personnel and equipment. As taxpayers, we have a right to expect these expenditures not to go to waste when they are no longer needed abroad. But we also have a right to insist on rigorous training for those who will be policing us here at home — a duty that differs substantially from what the military does overseas. With proper training and oversight, our nation's police forces can use this equipment to keep us better protected, safe, and secure.
Gregory T. Kiley is a former senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a former senior professional staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and a former U.S. Air Force officer.