Why Do Tampa Police Need Millions in Military Gear?
The police are meant to keep the peace, but, recently, the question of whether they do more harm than good has been at the forefront of the discussion. No one questions the importance of having a peace keeping force to maintain order and protect the public, but across the U.S. the police’s goals and responsibilities have come under scrutiny for unnecessary or inappropriate policies and conduct.
The Tampa Police aren’t immune to this.
As protesters and law enforcement continue to clash over police brutality and civil rights, Tampa Bay police have shown up in heavy military gear, confronting civil rights protesters with rubber bullets, tear gas, and pepper spray.
This begs the question, if police are meant to protect the public, why do they need advanced military gear, and why are they using it on people?
Taxes Put Towards Military-Grade Equipment
Like with most things, money seems to be involved.
Specifically, the 1033 Program has been arming police departments across the county with military-grade equipment for years. Tax money totaling some $7.4 billion has been used to arm law enforcement with military gear.
$200 million of this has gone to Florida agencies. In 2019, more than $15 million was sent to Florida to purchase military surplus, and in the first three months of 2020 alone, Florida has already spent more than $3 million on military equipment.
Some of this equipment has legitimate uses that can be adapted to Tampa’s needs. For example, mine-resistant trucks may not see much call for protection from explosives, but their weight and heft make them useful for plowing through several feet of deep water.
However, for every legitimate use of military gear, there are more instances of officers using them to intimidate and escalate. The presence of tanks on the streets, military trucks, and heavily armed officers have a chilling effect on free speech, and only lead to further tension and hostility between law enforcement and their communities.
A long history of excessive force continues to dog Florida law enforcement agencies. Over-policing in impoverished neighborhoods, racial profiling, and misconduct have led to tensions between officers and citizens, as well as calls for reform and reevaluation of police practices.
Allocating millions of tax dollars to Tampa police for military gear at this time seems not only unnecessary and counterproductive, but potentially harmful to the communities they are used in.
Violence Against Protesters
With millions of dollars in military gear at their disposal and an undeniably combative relationship to anti-police brutality protesters, there have been considerable concerns about violent confrontations. The presence of legal observers and the use of video accountability has increased transparency, but the police have continued to interact with demonstrators in full tactical gear, bearing assault rifles and tear gas.
The volatile atmosphere in Florida over police brutality has seen anti-BLM voices encouraging violence against protesters, which is a criminal act. Protests are constitutionally protected, and the presence of heavily armed, and often aggressive police is a serious concern for attorneys and policy developers.
Protesters arrested, assaulted, or battered may find themselves facing charges for fighting back, or in need of legal aid. Attorneys in Tampa have been kept busy fighting for protesters’ rights to free speech and assembly.
The Role of the Police
As peace officers, it’s important that police be able to protect themselves and effectively uphold the law. However, arming officers with millions of dollars’ worth of tactical gear in Tampa Bay is counterproductive to their responsibility to deescalate, protect, and serve.
At the end of the day, the City of Tampa and participants in the criminal justice system have a duty to reexamine the needs and responsibilities of our law enforcement. These dramatic expenses for Tampa’s police come out of the pockets of Florida citizens, and often only threaten the rights of the community in which they’re used.
About Brett Metcalf
Brett Metcalf is a criminal defense attorney based in Tampa, Florida. As a former prosecutor, Brett has tremendous insight into Florida’s criminal justice system. His extensive work defending the rights of Florida’s citizens has instilled him with the desire to engage with current events and criminal justice reform.
If you or a loved one is facing charges in or around Hillsborough County, FL, contact Metcalf Falls, Criminal Defense Attorneys, P.A. today. Our office is available 24/7 to fight for your rights.
(813) 258-4800 to schedule a free consultation.