U.S. police departments are so flush with war gear that they’re sending some to Ukraine

Biden said “the answer is to fund the police.” Uh, I think they’re doing okay.

Police in riot gear provide security as demonstrators gather for the "Justice for J6" rally in Washi...
Photo by PEDRO UGARTE/AFP via Getty Images
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In the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police, funding for law enforcement has been called into question. While several cities flirted with the idea of reimagining policing in their community, the Defund the Police movement has pretty clearly been dismissed by mainstream politicians. Republicans have explicitly campaigned in opposition to defunding the police, and during the State of the Union, President Biden tried to excise the policy from the Democratic platform by declaring “the answer is to fund the police.”

Okay, great. The police are funded. In fact, they’re receiving more funding than ever in some cities. So what are they doing with all of that money that they so desperately needed?

Well, they apparently have enough equipment to support a war effort. A recent report from Vice highlighted how police departments across the country are donating body armor, helmets, vests, and other equipment to Ukraine to be distributed to the nation’s military as it fights off invading Russian forces. It’s a worthwhile cause, to be sure — but it also highlights just how well-equipped American police departments are, if they have enough spare gear to support a geopolitical crisis.

In fact, police departments across the U.S. have been able to acquire discarded military equipment from the Pentagon for more than two decades. In that time, law enforcement agencies across the country have acquired everything from defensive equipment to firearms to armored vehicles. More than $7 billion worth of military equipment has been transferred to police departments in the U.S. since 1997 through the 1033 program, which has allowed cops to treat the streets of American cities like warzones.

It’s not surprising that these agencies could find some gear just laying around that they aren’t using, though it is wild to think that local police in the U.S. have the kind of equipment required to fight a war in the first place. According to Vice, Ukraine has a smaller defense budget than the New York Police Department alone.

Speaking of the relationship between the general public and cops: It turns out those interactions can be surprisingly costly ones. According to The Washington Post, police departments across the U.S. have paid out more than $3.2 billion in settlement claims in the last decade. Those payouts come as the result of misconduct by the police, ranging from excessive force to false arrests to killing pets. One officer admitted that he had “killed over 10, 15 animals in the course of my career,” as if that’s just part of the job.

Of the more than $3 billion getting paid out to people who have bad run-ins with the police, nearly half of it comes from officers involved in multiple settlements. Taxpayer money is being used to pay for the recurring bad behavior of police officers, who often face minimal repercussions for their actions.

So, the police are funded. This is what it’s getting us: police forces capable of fighting wars and repeatedly violating the rights of the people whom they are supposed to protect.