Military surplus transfer to have additional oversight in New Jersey

Gov. Chris Christie has signed two bills into law that will regulate the flow of surplus military equipment from the federal government to local police departments.

The bills give the state attorney general and local municipalities a level of oversight whenever local law enforcement agencies attempt to acquire excess military-grade weaponry and vehicles from the U.S. Department of Defense.

State Assemblyman Ronald Dancer (R-Monmouth, Ocean, Middlesex, Burlington), a sponsor of the bill package, said a closer look at the federal program was necessary.

“It is critical to ensure that all the equipment reassigned is properly suited for the mission,” Dancer said. “Are grenade launchers and armored personnel carriers appropriate for a small local police department? How much is too much?”

Since its creation in 1997 by the National Defense Authorization Act, the 1033 Program has been used by more than 8,000 local law enforcement agencies throughout the country to receive everything from shotguns to massive mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles, according to a press release.

In recent months, national attention was drawn to the 1033 Program after police in Ferguson, Missouri, employed military gear in their response to civil unrest that followed the killing of a teenager by a Ferguson police officer.

Dancer said such incidents further highlighted the need for the new laws.

“We need to maintain the right balance to preserve the effectiveness of our police officers and the trust and confidence of our residents,” he said.

New Jersey’s attorney general is now required to oversee the transfer of military equipment to local police departments.

A local governing body may now approve or deny a request from its police department to apply for military surplus through the 1033 Program.

“We want local police departments and their elected representatives to jointly make the decision to acquire U.S. Department of Defense war-like equipment, as well as the attorney general to sign off on it and, in so doing, provide the towns and their taxpayers with another layer of liability protection,” Dancer said.