Until recently, few people in Iowa, or anywhere else, were aware of the 1033 Program. That, of course, changed after the events in Ferguson, with the police on display with an mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle (MRAP) and riot gear that looked like pictures of the Eastern Bloc or China, and not mid-America.
To help police departments with equipment needs, the 1033 Program was started back in the 1990s after the first Gulf War and the end of the Soviet Union created a great deal of surplus military equipment. The program allows this equipment to be transferred to police departments at little cost.
Since this equipment is very expensive, it seems reasonable that the taxpayers should see it put to good use, rather than being scraped. In Iowa, about 160 departments have received equipment from the program.
A reasonable example of equipment is the Cedar Rapids Police Department's reconnaissance robots. The department obtained three, as they were surplus and they needed to use parts from two in order to obtain one working robot.
The robot can be sent into situations to obtain a closer look at suspicious or dangerous objects, protecting an officer from being placed at risk.
Other items, like the MRAP, which is essentially an armored personal carrier, seem more questionable. There are 13 in Iowa, and the issue would be how necessary are they. While police officers do risk their lives, so do loggers. And commercial fishers, aircraft pilots and roofers, whose jobs are statistically more risky than police work.
The fatality rate for Iowa police officers in 2012 was 1.7 per 100,000. Being a truck driver is 12.94 times more dangerous than being a police officer, and more officers die in traffic accidents than in armed confrontations with suspects.
If we are really interested in protecting officer's lives, maybe we should fund safer patrol cars.
KCRG.com, "Despite scrutiny, agencies defend government surplus program," Lee Hermiston, The Gazette, September 28, 2014