Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo on Monday announced the department will no longer accept military gear from the controversial U.S. Department of Defense surplus equipment program.
The department returned two pairs of night-vision goggles — its last remaining equipment from what is known as the Pentagon's 1033 program — and will not accept any gear in the future, del Pozo said.
The chief cited national concerns about the program, which transfers the Pentagon's excess assault rifles, armored vehicles and cars, and other tactical gear to local cops.
Opponents say the program exacerbates a trend toward the militarization of local police agencies.
“The militarization of local police departments is a genuine concern in our nation,” said del Pozo, who started work earlier this month after leaving the New York City Police Department, in a prepared statement. “There are times when military style equipment is essential for public safety, but they are very rare. Amassing a worst-case scenario arsenal of military equipment results in officers seeing everyday police work through a military lens. When I realized what a small role the military played in equipping our police, I concluded it was better to return the items and let our 1033 program memorandum of understanding expire.”
A Seven Days report in November found that in recent years, Vermont police agencies acquired 158 assault rifles, 14 military Humvees, and scores of scopes, sights and other equipment from the program, often with little public scrutiny. Agencies had requested more than twice as much military equipment than they got.
The Burlington Police Department, however, was among the Vermont law enforcement agencies that utilized the program the least.
“Today’s announcement cements the Burlington Police Department’s long-standing practice of avoiding the use of military equipment, in contrast to many other police departments," Mayor Miro Weinberger said. "Our focus instead is on the basics of good policing in the 21st century: foot patrols, strong relationships between the officers and the community, and the use of modern tools to increase public transparency and police effectiveness."
Del Pozo said Burlington police will rely on the Vermont State Police and the Vermont National Guard to provide specialized equipment in emergencies.