Rep. John Ratcliffe introduced a bill to congress on Wednesday aiming to undo President Barack Obama’s executive action on the 1033 Program, which transfers surplus Department of Defense equipment into the hands of law enforcement agencies.

Rep. John Ratcliffe introduced a bill to congress on Wednesday aiming to undo President Barack Obama’s executive action on the 1033 Program, which transfers surplus Department of Defense equipment into the hands of law enforcement agencies.


Ratcliffe is planning on pushing his bill, the Protecting Lives Using Surplus Equipment Act of 2016, through the U.S. House of Representatives as a companion bill to Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s Lifesaving Gear for Police Act, which Toomey introduced to the Senate the week before.


"What the executive order does is it puts restrictions on local police from obtaining federal gear through the existing 1033 Program," Ratcliffe said in an interview on Friday. "My bill does not create any new programs, it just preserves an existing program and frankly one that doesn’t cost any federal money."


Last year, Obama signed executive order 13688 that reworked the 1033 Program and placed additional restrictions on what items law enforcement agencies could receive through the program. The order emphasized the need for better coordination between the federal and local levels and the need for law enforcement agencies to be properly trained to handle the equipment.


The executive order prohibited certain military items from going to law enforcement agencies and placed bigger ticket items on a controlled equipment list. Prohibited items included tracked armored vehicles, weaponized vehicles, .50-caliber or higher firearms and ammunition. The controlled equipment list included aircraft, wheeled vehicles, breaching apparatuses and riot gear.


Ratcliffe said the original program has benefited state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the country, and his bill would restore the program to what it was before the executive order.


"Even things as simple as riot helmets and riot shields, they’re considered controlled equipment, which means police would have to comply with a list of conditions," Ratcliffe said. "Frankly, when there are terrorist events, police departments don’t have time to have a team of lawyers review a government checklist to comply."


Obama’s executive order came about as a response to the August 2014 protests in Ferguson Missouri, in which many advocates described the police action as militarization. The Working Group recommendation report for the executive order said at times during the protest, how police responded "was characterized as a ‘military‐style’ operation, as evidenced by videos and photographs that showed law enforcement officers atop armored vehicles, wearing uniforms often associated with the military and holding military‐type weapons."


The Texas Department of Public Safety, who oversees the military surplus property program within the state, said because of the executive order, some property that was formerly expendable is now restricted. So law enforcement agencies may still be able to require some items on the controlled equipment list, but they must fill out additional documents and go through additional approval processes.


"There’s two categories, there’s prohibited equipment local police can never get, and controlled equipment which essentially means police can’t get it either," Ratcliffe said. "They could possible get some of that equipment if they meet a long list of conditions, which typically they wouldn’t be able to meet."


Ratcliffe’s legislation would do away with both lists so police could acquire the items from the prohibited equipment list as well.


"It would be one thing if there was some evidence that showed state and local law enforcement had abuse or misused the equipment, and then caused undue or unnecessary harm to American citizens," Ratcliffe said. "That isn’t the case."


Ratcliffe said the executive action was solely a political move because law enforcement appeared to be becoming militarized. He said law enforcement is still accountable to the people.


"I think the police are always going to need to be accountable for the actions they take against the American people and the American public," Ratcliffe said.


A news release sent by his office said legislation is supported by local law enforcement officials and had a quote from Grayson County Sheriff-Elect Tom Watt, who formerly served as Sherman’s police chief.


In an interview Friday, Watt said the Sherman Police Department has benefited from the 1033 Program in the past by receiving outer body armor and ballistic helmets for their SWAT team.


"We didn’t have any personal protective equipment, that program made that stuff possible," Watt said.


Watt said the dynamics of each community should determine what equipment each community needs.


"I couldn’t say one way or another if the bill goes too far or not," Watt said. "Does every community in our country need a weaponized vehicle? Probably not, but I’m always about reasonableness, and the community themselves would determine that reasonableness."


Ratcliffe said he is hopeful that his bill and the Senate companion bill will move through congress during this year.