The Hays County Commissioners Court on Tuesday authorized Pct. 4 Constable Ron Hood to continue to receive surplus military equipment under a controversial program now before Congress.
The 1033 program was begun in the wake of 9/11 and was originally intended to give local law enforcement the ability to respond to terrorist attacks. It has been in use by many agencies in Hays County in recent years and notably, an MRAP acquired under the program has been used by the San Marcos Police Department for evacuations during floods.
Hood and Walt Smith, commissioners for Pct. 4, argued that they only intend to procure medical and first aid supplies including personal protective equipment (PPE) for use in training.
The vote to approve was unanimous.
Both men referred to the deadly flash flood that swamped much of Dripping Springs in May 2019, however, noting that a similar vehicle would have allowed for more people to have been moved out of harm’s way.
“There’s a substantial need in law enforcement for this equipment,” Hood told the court. “This is a great program for the county. Used right, this is a huge benefit.”
Smith called the program “a good investment for the county and cost effective for taxpayers,” adding that the equipment acquired comes at literally “pennies on the dollar.’
Prior to the vote, former Assistant Hays County District Attorney and League of Women Voters representative Shannon Fitzpatrick argued against the approval, especially in light of the protests against police brutality that are sweeping the nation.
“This action is completely tone deaf,” she said, “considering what is happening on our country today … When such equipment is used for law enforcement, what does that mean for the community?”
She continued, “Images of weapons of war are pretty horrific, especially right now.”
Fitzpatrick also referenced legislation pending in Congress that would “substantially limit” use of the program. “Is Hays County going to ignore that?”
She also recalled public outcry when military weaponry was used by police in Ferguson, Missouri during riots that followed the fatal shooting by police of Michael Brown.
In the wake of Ferguson, which Fitzpatrick called “an unmitigated disaster,” President Barak Obama scaled the program back. It was reinstated by Donald Trump in 2017.