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Military surplus again available to college campus police

University Business, November 2017
Value of military equipment  acquired by colleges. (Source: OpenTheBooks.com).
Value of military equipment acquired by colleges. (Source: OpenTheBooks.com).

Campus police forces once again have access to surplus military equipment—which means potential discounts on everything from armored vehicles to rifles to cameras and tools.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions this summer revived the surplus 1033 program, which the Obama Administration had restricted over public concerns about the militarization of police.

“Everybody equates it with tanks, armored personnel carriers and grenade launchers,” says Jeff Allison, the director of government and external relations for the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

“But for the vast majority of equipment transferred, we’re talking about computers, night-vision goggles and clothing.”

Military vehicles that could be used to respond to active shooters could also rescue people during a natural disaster such as flooding caused by this summer’s hurricanes, Allison says.

But not everyone agrees worst-case scenarios should justify the need for heavy equipment.

“Active shooters are extremely rare, and it’s not clear that a mine-resistant attack vehicle would make any difference,” says Alex Vitale, a professor of sociology and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College.

Such emergencies are often ended by armed officers long before an institution’s military vehicle can be mustered. Plus, military equipment could harm the legitimacy of campus police and damage the institution’s reputation, he adds.

“It runs the risk of installing a kind or warrior mentality among campus police, who should be much more focused on the campus service model,” Vitale says. “How will students and parents react the first time there’s a protest and campus police come out in robocop outfits with militarized hardware?”

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