June 17, 2021 18:57

‘Inaccurate’ Data Supported Revival of Military Giveaways to Police: Studies

Two independent research studies concluded that the billions of dollars worth of surplus military equipment transferred by the federal government to domestic law enforcement agencies do not reduce crime or increase the safety of communities and officers, ABC News reports.  

The studies, published in early December, examined the Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) 1033 program, which facilitates the transfer of surplus military equipment such as armored vehicles, high-powered rifles and fortified riot gears to civilian agencies. The program was revived by President Donald Trump after it was cancelled during the Barak Obama administration.

The studies, one by a researcher at the University of Michigan and the other by scholars at Emory College of Arts & Sciences and Louisiana State University, were published in the Nature of Human Behavior journal in early December, sparking a dialogue about law enforcement agency and donation spending.  

The studies also allege that the Trump administration cited “unreliable” data in 2017 to justify its executive order reviving the program.

“I think far too frequently we see public policy enacted on a hunch about what it will do and we don’t spend much effort evaluating whether they work as intended,” Tom Clark, co-author of the Emory study and a professor of political science at Emory University, told ABC News. 

“This is one very glaring example.” 

Researchers in the Emory University study said the data used by the White House to justify re-activating the 1033 program wasn’t  complete and accurate, casting doubt on claims that the equipment was critical for pubic safety.

“When we looked at the data and ran the replications, nothing looked like the results being cited by the Trump administration,” says Anna Gunderson, who was part of the research team as a graduate student at Emory.

“We spent a year trying to diagnose the problem,” Gunderson said, and the team eventually realized that the data  used to justify the program relied on country-wide data, not municipal level information.

In other words, the researchers in the past never directly compared local agencies that received military equipment and their crime rates to other local agencies that didn’t get 1033 Program assistance. 

The incomplete data particularly came from an American Economic Association study that falsely concluded local law enforcement agencies equipped by the 1033 Program were reducing crime in their neighborhoods as a direct result of the military rifles and armored vehicles they received, according to the Emory study.  

Not only was the data incomplete, but the Emory team also learned that the same data had other significant problems — discrepancies and missing information from the federal government’s records. 

“All the 2014 data showed was what had been shipped and where,” the authors explained. “There was no information about what happened once an agency received it — whether it was transferred to another agency, broken, destroyed, returned to the federal government or actually used by the department or agency.”

After the researchers ran a corrective analysis, comparing crime rates of local law enforcement agencies that received military equipment to those that haven’t they found that overall,  they found “it doesn’t reduce crime, it doesn’t lead to an increase in crime. It doesn’t seem to reduce officer injuries. It doesn’t seem to increase them either,” Clark explained.

University of Michigan Study Concurs

Kenneth Lowande, an assistant political science professor at the University of Michigan and author of the new studies titled “Police Demilitarization and Violent Crime,” found in his research that the Trump Administration began pushing the 1033 Program because of these flawed studies, after the Obama Administration rolled the program back. 

For his study, Lowande examined 3.8 million archived inventory records, and found that much of the military surplus equipment either sat in storage spaces, malfunctioned, or was no longer properly accounted for before being offered up through the 1033 Program. 

Furthermore, Lowande didn’t see a difference in crime rates in the areas affected by Obama’s 1033 rollback, suggesting that if the military equipment really did help keep crime down, limiting the program would’ve had an impact on data — but crime rates stayed the same. 

“I think the program does a lot of good, but there ought to be some kind of limits, and there are reasonable limits that I could understand that should exist,” Lowande concluded with ABC News.

Officers interviewed by ABC News were in favor of their police departments receiving military surplus equipment, and suggest that anyone who is skeptical of their effectiveness are “dismissive of the duel studies.” 

“This is just a symptom of the larger defund-the-police movement and this has turned political,” retired police Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith, a spokesperson for the nonprofit National Police Association, which educates the public on policing in America, told ABC News. 

Smith, who has been a police trainer for nearly 30 years, added that while the military equipment is used infrequently, “When we need them, we need them.”

Smith said she fears that if the 1033 Program is abolished or severely curtailed, “it’s not going to be the police who are going to get hurt, it’s going to be citizens.”

Patrick Yoes, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, the world’s largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers, also spoke to ABC News and slammed the two studies, describing them as “convoluted logic.”

Overall, Leo Owens, associate professor of political science at Emory and co-author of their study said, “I don’t think we have ever seen the scrutiny of police on such a national level like what we are seeing right now.”

Owens concluded, “In light of the protests, and how many police appeared at them looking like soldiers and carrying weapons that looked like what soldiers would carry and some of the vehicles which might have been surplus military equipment, it really forces one to be clear about the claims that are made about the transfer of military equipment, particularly arms and vehicles and surveillance equipment, to police.”

The full University of Michigan study can be accessed here through an institution or subscription. 

The full Emory University study can be accessed here through an institution or subscription. 

Andrea Cipriano is a TCR staff writer.

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