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The Pentagon might take back some of the military gear it gave to police

Police respond to protesters in Ferguson, Missouri.
Police respond to protesters in Ferguson, Missouri.
Scott Olson

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has the power to unilaterally suspend a program that sends surplus military equipment to local police and take back the gear, a Pentagon official told The Hill.

The 1033 program is getting more attention in recent weeks due to the police's heavy-handed tactics in Ferguson, Missouri, where demonstrators are protesting the police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. In the past couple of weeks, federal officials, including President Barack Obama and US Attorney General Eric Holder, have criticized the militarization of police.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby stated, however, that Hagel has not yet initiated a formal review of the program, and the review is necessary to ultimately dismantle the scheme. But Hagel did ask for more information.

"The secretary has been mindful of the public debate and discussion about this issue and asked his staff this morning for some additional information about the program," Kirby told the Hill. "He has been given an information paper that provides some more detail to it, and he's consuming that now."

Barring action from the Pentagon, the 1033 program could be dismantled by Congress. And local governments could stop requesting the equipment altogether.

The end of the Pentagon's 1033 program would present a major step toward demilitarizing local police, but it wouldn't remove all of the military gear and technology local departments have built up over the years. The Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security, for instance, also supply police with military-grade equipment.

To learn more about the 1033 program and situation in Ferguson, read the full explainer on the militarization of US police, the full explainer on the Michael Brown shooting, and watch the two-minute video below: