NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On May 20, the New Brunswick City Council reauthorized the city's participation in the U.S Department of Defense's 1033 program, which provides surplus military equipment to state, county and local police agencies.
The measure, R-051567, was unlike most resolutions in that all five members of the Council did not agree on it.
Former Council President Rebecca Escobar abstained from the reauthorization vote, after asking about restrictions on "what kind of equipment the police department can receive"
New Brunswick Police Department Captain JT Miller responded, "As of right now there are no restrictions but there is legislation coming that is going to put restrictions on it."
The authorization was mandated by legislation sponsored by State Senator Nia Gill, which requires local governments to approve via resolution the enrollment of its police departments in the Defense Logistics Agency program.
That bill was signed into law by Governor Christie in mid-March, after months of controversy over some of the vehicles and weapons that were making their way to local police departments across the country.
However, the Governor vetoed a second bill, also sponsored by Gill, which would have required increased oversight of the 1033 program by the State Attorney General.
As of late 2014, Middlesex County police departments are in possession of 36 military assault rifles, twenty 5.56 mm rifles and sixteen 7.62 mm rifles.
As we reported last year, NBPD did not receive any weapons from the agency but they did get a utility truck/van, five workstations, four laptop computers, an infrared illuminator, and a coffee-maker valued at $238.
In total, the New Brunswick Police Department received $243,000 worth of equipment that once belonged to the military.
Other police agencies in Middlesex County, however, were the recipients of more lethal equipment.
Piscataway has seventeen M-16 rifles, each valued at $499, while its tiny neighbor Dunellen received four M-14 rifles and a utility truck. The four assault rifles were valued at $148 each, while the utility truck was valued at $41,061.
In March 2012, Middlesex County was a recipient of a utility vehicle valued at $25,000. The following year, the county was able to purchase a mobile command center with $180,768 in federal Homeland Security grant funding.
In response to the increased scrutiny of the 1033 program, U.S President Barack Obama announced during a recent visit to Camden that his administration would begin rolling out new regulations on the controversial program.
There, Obama announced Executive Order 13688, which includes new regulations prohibiting the federal government from providing local law enforcement with gear such as armored vehicles, grenade launchers, bayonets and large caliber weapons.
Restrictions would also be put on equipment such as explosives and riot equipment, requiring local law enforcement to provide extra certifications and assurances before receiving these kinds of equipment.
The controlled and prohibited equipment list is subject to change at the discretion of the federal government. Items can be added or removed from the list, and restrictions on equipment within the list can be increased or relaxed.
"We've seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like it's an occupying force as opposed to a force that's part of the community that's protecting them and serving them," Obama said.
"So we're going to prohibit some of the equipment made for the battlefield, that is not appropriate for local police departments."
Still, despite the announcement on May 18, New Brunswick Police Department Captain JT Miller maintained at the City Council meeting two days later that there are no restrictions on the equipment that law enforcement agencies can receive under the 1033 program.
Captain Miller added, "There is legislation coming that is going to put restrictions on it."
It was unclear at that time on whether or not Captain Miller was aware of the restrictions put in place days prior.