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Study: Military weapons, gear isn't helping local police reduce crime

The study's lead author, LSU Department of Political Science Assistant Professor Anna Gunderson, said on Twitter there is no evidence to come to that conclusion.
Credit: Charlie Riedel, AP
Police in riot gear stand around an armored vehicle as smoke fills the streets Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. Missouri's governor ordered hundreds more state militia into Ferguson on Tuesday, after a night of protests and rioting over a grand jury's decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, a case that has inflamed racial tensions in the U.S. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) ORG XMIT: ILKS132

NEW ORLEANS — Arming community police departments with military weapons or giving them military equipment or vehicles does not reduce crime, a study published Tuesday said.

The study, which was published Tuesday in Nature Human Behavior, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, used government documents to show how previous arguments that claimed military gear helps reduce crime were based on faulty data.

Making more military equipment available to community police departments and sheriff's offices across the country in 2017, President Donald Trump's administration cited research that said extra DoD weapons, gear, equipment or vehicles given to police departments helped reduce crime.

That prompted researchers to try and confirm the claim, but they couldn't.

The study's lead author, LSU Department of Political Science Assistant Professor Anna Gunderson, said on Twitter there is no evidence to come to that conclusion.

Tom Clark, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Political Science at Emory co-authored the study, which was published Tuesday in Nature Human Behavior.

"The most important thing for policymakers and the public to know is that you can’t justify giving surplus military equipment to police departments on the grounds it will lead to a reduction in crime," Clark said. "There is no evidence for that. You can’t claim this program is important because it reduces crime."

Researching government documents on the 1033 program — one of the most significant federal programs that contribute to the militarization of local police departments and sheriff's offices — Gunderson said there was a problem with the data.

“When we looked at the data and ran the replications. Nothing looked like the results being cited by the Trump Administration. We spent a year trying to diagnose the problem,” Gunderson said. 

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Studies of transfers of surplus military equipment to police have argued that they reduce crime. Gunderson et al. reanalysed US federal data and replicated key studies. They find no credible evidence that crime drops when local police get more SME.
12/07/2020BATON ROUGE - New research shows that the militarization of local law enforcement through weapons, armored vehicles, combat attire, office equipment and other items provided by the Department of Defense does not reduce crime. Additionally, researchers found incomplete records and discrepancies in the federal government's tracking of surplus military equipment, or SME, issued to local law enforcement agencies.