Charting the $1.7B Transfer of Military Equipment to Police Departments
View the full-size version of this infographic.
In the wake of countrywide protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd, questions around the militarization of police forces have taken center stage once again.
How did so many police departments across the United States end up with bomb-proof trucks and night vision goggles? Where are departments acquiring this equipment, and at what cost?
These questions and more are answered by data from the Defense Logistics Agency, which oversees the 1033 Program. The visualization above tracks the flow of military equipment to law enforcement over the past decade.
A note on the data: Much of the equipment acquired through the program is already used – and often obsolete by military standards. As well, the 1033 dataset captures shipments of equipment. Over time, items can be transferred between departments, meaning these official records may be less reflective of specific police department inventories as time goes on. For these reasons, we decided to cap our analysis to looking at the last decade (2010-2020) of transfers.
Free Military Surplus for Law Enforcement
The 1033 Program was conceived in the years following Operation Desert Storm, just as America’s violent crime rate was hitting an all-time high. During this era, America’s “war on drugs” and tough-on-crime political platforms provided the impetus for the militarization of police forces around the country.
The 1033 program has been likened to Craigslist’s “Free Stuff” section, and the comparison is apt. The mechanics of the program are relatively straightforward. Outdated military gear is transferred (at no cost) to state and local law enforcement agencies who go through the application process. The equipment is loaned to agencies, who are only responsible only for shipping and subsequent operating costs (e.g. fuel, spare parts).
Law enforcement agencies gain access to a vast array of military surplus, from office supplies and thermal underwear up to armored vehicles and multi-million dollar communications systems. Also included in the mix are medical supplies and gear to aid in search and rescue operations. Since the program’s inception, over $7.4 billion worth of property has been transferred.
One of the most popular items acquired by police departments is the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP. Over the past decade, over 1,000 of these vehicles were transferred from the military to law enforcement agencies. This includes places like Monett, Missouri (population 9,000), which is on record as receiving two MRAP vehicles.
Night vision equipment is extremely popular as well. Items like goggles, scopes, and surveillance equipment – which can run thousands of dollars per unit – have been shipped to police departments around the country.
Of course, military surplus isn’t just about fancy vehicles and weaponry. The Meade County Sheriff’s Office in Kentucky is on record for ordering a single box of toilet paper just as COVID-19 was on the rise in that state.
Shipments at the State Level
Since the army is willing to part with excess equipment, cash-strapped police departments are happy to oblige. More than $1.7 billion of surplus has been transferred over to police around the country over the past decade.
The two biggest spenders, California and Texas, combined to acquire a total of $271 million in equipment, but looking at things on a per capita basis helps to show the states that were most enthusiastic about the 1033 Program in more relative terms.
|State||Value of equipment (2010-2020)||Value of equipment per capita|
Tennessee had by far the highest spending considering its population, with police departments in the state acquiring $20 worth of equipment per person. With the exception of Arizona, all the states that rank highly in that metric have per capita police spending that sits well below the U.S. average.
On the flip side, New York came in at a fraction of that amount, acquiring only $1.74 worth of equipment for every person in the state. Of course, it’s worth noting that New York had the highest police expenditure in the country (after Washington DC).
Who got the Goods?
Not surprisingly, state-level law enforcement agencies topped the list. For example, the Arizona Department of Public Safety received multiple airplanes valued at $17 million per unit. California’s highway patrol received the most expensive single item on the list – a $22 million aircraft.
For a more local perspective, here’s a look at the top 20 police departments by value of military equipment acquired:
|Law Enforcement Agency (Exc. state)||State||Value of Equipment Acquired|
|Houston Police Department||TX||$11,682,951|
|Las Vegas Metro Police Department||NV||$8,995,931|
|Washington County Sheriff's Office||TN||$7,501,075|
|Columbus Division of Police||OH||$6,885,949|
|Ventura County Sheriff's Office||CA||$6,605,678|
|Columbus County Sheriff's Office||NC||$6,596,927|
|Sacramento County Sheriff's Department||CA||$6,142,009|
|Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office||CA||$5,902,198|
|Hocking County Sheriff's Office||OH||$5,865,008|
|Jackson Police Department||MS||$5,823,634|
|Orange County Sheriff's Department||CA||$5,802,758|
|Lawrenceburg Police Department||TN||$5,543,166|
|Sherburne County Sheriff's Office||MN||$5,194,238|
|Kirklin Police Department||IN||$5,014,748|
|Los Angeles Country Sheriff's Department||CA||$4,840,970|
|King Country Sheriff's Department||WA||$4,618,686|
|Pinal Country Sheriff's Department||AZ||$4,305,849|
|Martin County Sheriff's Office||FL||$4,179,645|
|Kane County Sheriff's Office||IL||$4,006,465|
|Cottage Grove Police Department||MN||$3,941,606|
On its own, Houston police department received as much as the bottom five states combined. Nearly 400 other police departments also broke the $1 million barrier, and over 2,026 departments around the country received over $100,000 in goods.
Here’s How Reserve Currencies Have Evolved Over 120 Years
Today, the U.S. dollar makes up 60% of held reserve currency. See how global preferences have shifted since 1900.
Here’s How Reserve Currencies Have Evolved Over 120 Years
Over the last 120 years, the popularity of different reserve currencies have ebbed and flowed, reflecting the shifting fortunes of leading global economies.
For example, in the year 1900, the U.S. dollar and pound sterling made up 0% and 62% of global reserves respectively. But fast forward to 2020, and the pound now represents just 4.7% of global currency reserves, while the U.S. dollar stands at nearly 60%.
Today’s motion graphic from James Eagle looks at the year-over-year change in currency reserves as a portion of total reserves, spread across 120 years.
What is a Reserve Currency?
A reserve currency is a large quantity of currency held in “reserve” by monetary authorities like central banks.
Currencies are often held in reserve in preparation for investments and transactions, among other things. Our vast global trade system, which is approaching $20 trillion in value, means plenty of currencies are always needed in reserve. In fact, an estimated $5 trillion in currency swaps hands every single day.
Here are some reasons that currency reserves are held:
- Exchange rate stability for the domestic currency
- To ensures liquidity in times of crisis
- To diversify central bank portfolios, which can reduce risk and improve credit ratings
- More than 65 countries peg their currencies to the U.S. dollar
- Five U.S. territories and a number of sovereign countries, such as Ecuador and Panama, use it as an official currency of exchange
- Around 90% of all Forex trading involves the U.S. dollar
All things equal, countries benefit economically from greater demand for their respective currencies.
The Rise and Fall of Reserve Currencies
Some economists argue that the demand for currencies in the long run revolves around the economic relevance of a country. In general, the larger and more powerful a nation’s economy is, the greater the network effect, and the more interlinked they are to the global economy. Thus, the greater demand there is to hold their currency in reserve.
The last 120 years of currency reserve data shows some support for this claim. For example, Japan’s economy hit a peak in terms of its relative share of global GDP in the early 1990s, just before the effects of the Lost Decade were felt. Subsequently, their peak as a reserve currency was around the same horizon, at 9.4% in 1990.
America’s Era of Dominance
Due to the economic strength of the United States in the post-WWII era, the dollar is what economists call a vehicle currency.
This means many non-dollar economies still choose to engage in international transactions using the dollar. These smaller and less accepted currencies are often converted to U.S. dollars before proceeding with any business or trade dealings. This is why, although Asian economies tend to have neighboring states as their top trade partners, they still engage in a massive portion of these transactions with the U.S. greenback as the currency of choice.
Here are some facts that further exemplify the strength and power of the U.S. dollar:
Additionally, the dollar is often seen as a haven in times of extreme uncertainty and tumult. Given its status as the world’s reserve currency, it can be perceived as less risky and can withstand economic shock to a greater degree relative to other currencies.
New Challengers to the Dollar
In the not too distant past, the U.S. displaced the UK economically and as the world’s reserve currency. Today, the U.S. economy is showing signs of slowing down, based on GDP growth.
China is on the rise, having already displaced the U.S. as the EU’s top trade partner. With projections for China to overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest economy before 2030 in nominal terms, could a new global reserve currency emerge?
This Clever Map is a Window into 19th Century New York City
The early 1800s were a time of rapid change in New York City. This map shows the city in 1836, alongside the modern day metropolis.
The early 19th century was a time of great change for New York, which had already cemented its status as America’s largest city.
The opening of the Erie Canal helped turn the city into a shipping powerhouse, and there was a building boom on the horizon. Cholera epidemics, fires, and riots swept through the city at various points.
This fascinating interactive map, from Esri, is a snapshot of New York City during the tumultuous time (1836 to be exact), overlaid on the modern-day satellite map.
Getting the Lay of the Land
The base map used above is the stunning “Topographical Map Of The City and County Of New–York, and the adjacent Country”, published by the prodigious mapmaker, Joseph Colton.
For easy viewing, the map’s legend is below:
This map includes all the usual features, such as roads and prominent buildings, but it also has some clever secondary information built in as well. For one, shading indicates ares that were more built-up at the time. There are also a number of visual techniques to indicate topographical features as well. After all, NYC wasn’t as extensive as it is today, and much of the land depicted in the map is still undeveloped.
The full map is well worth exploring as well, as there are a number of beautiful illustrations throughout.
Tool tip: Click the X on the info bar to hide it. (Mobile: Click the map, then the magnifying glass.)
The Big Picture: New York City in 1836
At this point in time, development in Lower Manhattan extended until about 14th Street, where buildings began to give way to open spaces. The city’s grid pattern was beginning to take shape, following the Commissioners’ Plan laid out in 1811. At the time, New York was anticipating massive growth, and the straightforward grid pattern was an efficient way to prepare the city for rapid expansion.
In the 1800s, fire was an ever-present danger for city dwellers. In fact, a major fire tore through Lower Manhattan a year prior to when this map was published.
Points of Interest
There are a number of points worth visiting on this map.
Transit Begins to Take Shape
In the 1830s, New York City’s first railroad line—horse powered for its first few years—connected Prince Street to the Harlem River, accelerating the city’s expansion northward from Lower Manhattan. This route is still recognizable today as the Harlem Line.
One very obvious difference between the two maps is how much land has been reclaimed along shorelines in the area. Battery Park City, on the west side of downtown, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard are two prominent examples of infill. Randall’s Island, located near the top of Manhattan, is also an interesting place to observe changes in topography. Randall’s Island is actually made up of three islands that were eventually conjoined in the 1960s.
This interactive map is a great place to explore changes to NYC’s shoreline over time.
Taming the Landscape
Midtown Manhattan is worth zooming into for a couple of reasons. First, the outline of Central Park is visible, although the park would officially be approved until almost 20 years later.
As well, this topographical map clearly shows the numerous outcroppings spread across the island. Manhattan was far from flat in the 1800s, and it took a tremendous amount of effort—starting with gunpowder, pickaxes, and horse-drawn carts—to level the land.
Looking at these historical maps is a reminder that the New York City we know today is the product of hundreds of years of human effort, and that cities continue to evolve over time.
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