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Henderson City Hall as seen on Thursday, March, 16, 2017. Photo by Jeff Scheid.

The Henderson City Council has ratified an agreement that allows the Henderson Police Department to participate in a federal military surplus program that provides law enforcement agencies with everything from flashlights to mine resistant vehicles when the military is done using them. 

The agreement approved on Tuesday between the Henderson Police Department, the Nevada Department of Public Safety and the Office of Criminal Justice Assistance adds Henderson’s police to the 1033 Program — an initiative that allows law enforcement agencies to receive excess property from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The state of Nevada has been a part of the program since 2000, and currently possesses over $17 million worth of military equipment, according to data released in 2019 by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA).

A representative from the Henderson Police Department said that officials are not currently seeking specific equipment from the program but rather are looking to it as a way to better position themselves for potential needs. The program is also a way to mitigate expenses incurred by the police department. 

Many other Nevada law enforcement agencies have already taken advantage of the program, most notably the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, which alone possesses surplus military equipment worth $2 million as of 2019. The Henderson Police Department representative said she was not sure why the city was only now joining the program.

This program has been the subject of scrutiny, with critics saying it has facilitated the “militarization” of local police departments because of the type of equipment being distributed. The ACLU condemned the program in a June 2014 report.

In the report, the ACLU criticizes “unnecessarily aggressive SWAT raids,” saying that “law enforcement agencies have become equipped to carry out these SWAT missions in part by federal programs such as the Department of Defense’s 1033 Program, the Department of Homeland Security’s grants to local law enforcement agencies, and the Department of Justice’s Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program.”

Some of Nevada’s state agencies have themselves received surplus military equipment. Carson City is currently accountable for a mine resistant vehicle acquired through the program, and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department previously received two military helicopters which have since been transferred to the Washoe County Sheriff's Department. 

President Barack Obama placed limits on the program amid the debate about over-policing that followed law enforcement’s heavily armed response to the protests in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. According to numbers from the Defense Logistics Agency, the amount of gear received by local agencies following those limits dropped drastically. 

Some Nevada state agencies have seen drops in program participation. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department had more than $7 million worth of equipment in 2014 before the Obama-era restrictions, compared to $2 million in 2019.

In 2017, President Trump lifted those restrictions. However, even after the restrictions were lifted, the amount of gear continued to decrease between 2017 and 2018. 

Public information is available about what agencies are receiving as a part of this program as the DLA continues to release quarterly reports on accountable property held by participating agencies in all 50 states. 

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