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Obama seizes ‘militaristic looking’ equipment from Alabama law enforcement, prompting backlash

Armored personnel carrier given to the Troy, Ala., SWAT Team by the Dept. of Homeland Security (Photo: Facebook)
Armored personnel carrier given to the Troy, Ala., SWAT Team by the Dept. of Homeland Security (Photo: Facebook)

WASHINGTON — In a letter to President Barack Obama Tuesday, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) blasted the president for being anti-police and urged him to reverse a “dangerous” executive order that resulted in the federal government taking two armored vehicles away from a local Alabama sheriff.

The Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office received two unarmed, tracked armored vehicles under Congress’s “1033” program. The program, which has been around for a couple of decades, allows for the transfer of military equipment to local law enforcement agencies. According to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency, “over 8,000 federal and state law enforcement agencies from all 50 states and the U.S. territories participate in the program,” including many in Alabama.

That is, until the President signed an executive order rolling back the program in the wake of the race riots in Ferguson and Baltimore. As a result, all “militaristic looking” vehicles were seized from local law enforcement agencies.

“We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people the feeling like there’s an occupying force — as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them,” said President Obama, before adding that the equipment “can alienate and intimidate residents and make them feel scared.”

Calhoun County’s two tracked armored vehicles were first obtained after three local police officers were shot by a mentally ill individual in 2001, according to the Daily Caller. The vehicles were used to search a wooded area where a police shooting suspect was believed to be hiding out in 2011 and later utilized as transportation during ice storms.

“Today is a sad and frustrating day at the Sheriff’s office,” Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson said after his department’s vehicles were seized. “Tracked armored vehicles are defensive in nature. They have no offensive capabilities. This decision by our commander in chief, I don’t agree with it. This is the nation we live in. We are a nation of laws and we follow those laws.”

Other sheriffs who had their vehicles taken away backed Amerson’s position, even going as far as to say that people will die as a result of the President’s decision.

Congressional Republicans are believed to be working on inserting language into the next appropriations bill that will reinstate the program and get the vehicles and equipment back to local law enforcement agencies.

“We live in an increasingly dangerous and uncertain world, and we cannot allow President Obama to prioritize protecting those trying to do us harm over those trying to protect us,” Sen. Shelby said. “I will continue to fight against this flawed, irresponsible executive action that expands Washington’s influence in our communities and weakens local law enforcement’s ability to protect us.”

Sen. Shelby was also critical of the President’s decision to rescind Congress’s 1033 program via executive order, a pattern the Alabama senator says has repeated itself throughout the Obama presidency.

“Time and time again, President Obama abuses the authority of his office by making unilateral decisions through executive fiat,” he said. “From his attempts to grant executive amnesty to illegal immigrants and his plans to allow Syrian refugees to resettle in the United States, to his decision to take away vehicles from local law enforcement in Calhoun County, it is clear that this president is more interested in scoring political points than ensuring the safety of our citizens.”

Sen. Shelby’s full letter to President Obama can be read below:

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Obama:

I was extremely disturbed to learn that the Defense Logistics Agency is removing two unarmed, tracked armored vehicles from the Calhoun County Sheriff’s office in Alabama. These military surplus vehicles, obtained through the Section 1033 program, have been valuable to local law enforcement in Calhoun County. For example, one of the vehicles has been used to search a wooded area for a man suspected of shooting and killing a local police officer. Another one has been used to assist the community during ice storms. While some may argue that the use of military surplus equipment by law enforcement “militarizes” our law enforcement agencies in ways contrary to civil rights and liberties, I strongly disagree with the premise that local governments do not strive to support and be sensitive to their communities. In addition, where misuse of such equipment does occur, civil and criminal remedies exist to properly address any agency that takes advantage of this system.

During this time of increased uncertainty at home and abroad, the American people are looking to your Administration and the federal government to keep them safe. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly clear that you are more interested in providing favors for political and ideological friends. Citizens across Alabama and America wonder why your Administration is attacking local law enforcement while criminals and terrorists are taking advantage of a system in which politically correct policies are advanced by lawyers and activists who profit by accusing police and soldiers of abuses. Let me be clear, while some isolated incidents of police misconduct do occur, your executive action undermines the men and women in uniform and the safety of American citizens.

In the wake of events in Ferguson and the lawlessness that followed, I understand the need for a national debate about how to balance the rights of law-abiding citizens with the tools and policies necessary for public safety. As Chairman of the Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee on the Senate Appropriations Committee, I have supported such a debate and have worked to enact policies in appropriations legislation for the Department of Justice on this subject. For example, we have made great strides in common-sense, community-driven policies such as increased availability of body cameras and enhanced community policing.

It comes as no surprise to those of us in Alabama that you have aligned your policies with those who would have us believe that the biggest problem in communities is the police, and your executive order regarding surplus military equipment is one case in point. Communities in Alabama and across the country depend on the Section 1033 program to obtain equipment that they could not otherwise afford. Your new prohibitions on types of equipment – like unarmed, tracked armored vehicles, .50 caliber weapons, and others – suggest that you believe that you know better than leaders of our communities what tools they need to help keep their citizens safe. After the unprecedented overreach of your executive actions on issues such as immigration and the environment, Americans are sick and tired of liberal elites substituting their so-called wisdom for local efforts to meet the needs of our families and communities.

In the aftermath of the attack in Paris and surge of terrorist violence across the world, I ask that you revisit this misguided and dangerous policy on surplus military equipment. Our citizens need their national leaders to place the safety of our communities and those who protect them above criminals, terrorists, and politics. Congress will surely review and respond to these misguided policies in 2016.


Richard Shelby
U.S. Senator

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