How Iowa law enforcement agencies justified armored vehicle requests

Marking the one-year anniversary of the militarized police crackdown on protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, Molly Redden wrote a fascinating piece for Mother Jones on how local law enforcement agencies have justified their requests for "combat style weapons, trucks, and armor." Redden noted that in public, representatives of police organizations have cited "hostage situations, rescue missions, and heavy-duty shootouts" to justify the need for military equipment. But when requesting mine resistant ambush protected vehicles through official channels, "very few sheriffs and police chiefs cite active shooters, hostage situations, or terrorism […]." More often, they indicated plans to use the equipment for SWAT raids, drug enforcement, or serving warrants.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, Redden obtained more than 450 local requests for armored vehicles submitted during the past two years. She uploaded the documents here. Ten requests came from Iowa law enforcement agencies (the Iowa State Patrol, five county sheriff’s offices, and four city police departments). Those may not represent all the Iowa requests for armored vehicles; Redden told me she requested only applications with something written in the “special considerations” section of the form. However, I would assume that most police forces seeking to obtain heavy equipment from the military would explain why they need the armored vehicle and/or how they plan to use it.

After the jump I’ve enclosed links to the Iowa documents obtained by Redden and quoted each police or sheriff’s department explanation for requesting an armored vehicle.

President Barack Obama implemented new federal rules in May to prohibit transfers of certain military equipment to local police: namely, “tracked armored vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers, camouflage uniforms, and large-caliber weapons and ammunition.” All of the Iowa documents Redden obtained requested armored vehicles on wheels (though the Scott County Sheriff’s Office indicated it would also accept tracked vehicles).

On a related note, in June the U.S. House rejected amendments to next year’s military budget that would have “prohibited funds from being used for the Pentagon to transfer flash-bang grenades and armored vehicles to local police departments.” Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01) and David Young (IA-03) voted for the unsuccessful attempt to stop transfers of armored vehicles to police departments. Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Republican Steve King (IA-04) voted against that amendment.

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Iowa Congressional voting catch-up thread: Defense, trade, Medicare, chemicals, and power plants

While Congress is on recess until after July 4, it’s time to catch up on an unusually busy few weeks in June for U.S. House members. Bleeding Heartland previously covered how Iowa’s representatives voted on the failed and successful attempts to pass trade promotion authority, repeal of country-of-origin labeling requirements for meat, a bill to eliminate a tax on medical devices, and the Intelligence Authorization Act.

Follow me after the jump to find out how Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) voted on the latest defense budget bill, more trade-related policies, and legislation dealing with chemical safety, Medicare cost controls, and regulations of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Iowa’s representatives also voted last week on a matter relating to the growing national controversy over Confederate symbols.

Something you don’t see often when looking through Congressional roll calls: three of Iowa’s four House members crossed party lines more than once during the floor debate on the defense budget.

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Joni Ernst breaks a promise to military victims of sexual assault

"Alarming rates" of rape and sexual assault in the U.S. military, most of which go unpunished, are an ongoing scandal. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has been the leading voice in the Senate for reforms to address the "vastly underreported" problem. Last year, Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin both supported a bill Gillibrand introduced, which would have taken sexual assault cases outside the military chain of command.

While former Representative Bruce Braley served in the U.S. House, he repeatedly introduced legislation aimed at reducing rates of sexual assault in the military and removing “decisions over investigating and prosecuting sexual assault allegations […] from the normal chain of command.” Braley’s guest at the 2014 State of the Union address was Service Women’s Action Network executive director Anu Bhagwati, whose group “has been at the center of the national effort to reform the military’s handling of military sexual assault.”

As the Republican nominee facing Braley in last year’s U.S. Senate campaign, Joni Ernst talked a good game on this issue. After disclosing that she had faced sexual harassment while serving in the Iowa National Guard, Ernst promised to support reforms that would remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command, even if she got “push-back” from Pentagon leaders or GOP Senate colleagues. She also said ensuring “sexual crimes in the military are both independently investigated and prosecuted […] should not be a partisan issue, and as a woman in uniform, I know that we must act now.”

Last week, Ernst had a chance to walk the walk. Instead, she helped kill Gillibrand’s amendment to the 2016 defense authorization bill, going back on her campaign pledge and casting a rare vote in opposition to her fellow Iowa Republican Grassley.

Follow me after the jump for more background and details on Ernst’s broken promise.

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A Steve King triumph over DREAMers and how the Iowans voted on Defense Authorization bill

Catching up on Iowa Congressional news, on May 15 the U.S. House approved a $612 billion Defense Authorization bill for fiscal year 2016 by 269 votes to 151 (roll call). Not surprisingly, all four Iowans supported the bill on final passage. Votes on several amendments were the most interesting part of the process, as was the case during House debate of the first two spending bills to clear the lower chamber this year.

Follow me after the jump for details on last week’s defense-related votes by Iowa Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04), and Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02). Notably, King and his allies removed language that would have allowed military service by some undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children. The House approved some other amendments by voice vote; click here for brief descriptions.

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Joni Ernst plans to retire from National Guard next year

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst plans to retire as a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard "within the next year," she announced on Iowa Public Television’s "Iowa Press" program. Click here to watch the whole video or read the full transcript from the May 8 edition; I’ve enclosed the relevant portion after the jump. Ernst explained that it is "very hard" to balance her obligations as a senator with her National Guard and desire to spend time with her family. She said she would probably retire in about a year, to give plenty of time to train her replacement.

Stepping back from military service to focus more fully on the U.S. Senate is the right decision for lots of reasons. I didn’t expect Ernst to make that choice, given how central her identity as a soldier has been to her political image, from the beginning to the end of her Senate campaign.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S.- In what struck me as the most interesting part of Ernst’s “Iowa Press” appearance, Iowa’s junior senator sounded like a veteran pol as she thwarted three experienced panelists’ best efforts to get her to commit to specific federal spending cuts. The portion comes just before the discussion of Ernst’s National Guard work. Referring to recent budget votes in the Senate, Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson asked Ernst, “as you funnel more money to the Pentagon, what are you going to cut elsewhere to make up for that?” After Ernst gave a meandering non-response, Iowa Public Television’s Dean Borg tried to follow up with another question about what domestic programs might need to be cut, but no dice. The Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich then asked, “You campaigned on cutting pork […]. Who are you going to be making squeal?” Ernst responded with more vague talk (“we really do have to look at government and what we’re doing”), plus a few examples of cuts that wouldn’t add up to any meaningful amount in the context of the whole federal budget.  

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House passes first 2016 spending bills: How the Iowans voted

Catching up on Congressional news, last week the U.S. House approved a joint Republican framework setting top-line numbers for the federal budget as well as the first two spending bills for the 2016 fiscal year, which begins on October 1. Along the way, House members considered amendments covering a wide range of issues, from regulations on incandescent light bulbs to "prevailing wage" rules for federal construction projects to medical marijuana advice for Americans who receive their health care through the Veterans Administration.

Follow me after the jump for details on the latest votes by Iowa Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04).

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