U.S. rethinks giving excess military gear to police

Attorney General is "deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message"
Associated Press
Aug 17, 2014

After a decade of sending military equipment to civilian police departments across the country, federal officials are reconsidering the idea in light of the violence in Ferguson, Missouri.

The public has absorbed images of heavily armed police, snipers trained on protesters and tear gas plumes. Against that backdrop, Attorney General Eric Holder said that when police and citizens need to restore calm, "I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message."

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said police responses like that in Ferguson have "become the problem instead of the solution." Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said he will introduce legislation to reverse police militarization.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said his committee will review the program to determine if the Defense Department's surplus equipment is being used as intended.

One night after the violence that accompanied the presence of military-style equipment in Ferguson, tensions eased when a police captain, unprotected and shaking hands, walked through a crowd in a gesture of reconciliation. The contrast added to perception that the tanks and tear gas had done more harm than good.

As the country concludes its longest wartime period, the military has turned over thousands of surplus weapons and armored trucks to local police who often trained alongside the military.

A report by the American Civil Liberties Union in June said police agencies had become "excessively militarized," with officers using training and equipment designed for the battlefield on city streets. The report found the amount of goods transferred through the military surplus program rose from $1 million in 1990 to nearly $450 million in 2013.

"Every police force of any size in this country has access to those kinds of weapons now," said David Harris, a police expert at the University of Pittsburgh law school. "It makes it more likely to be used (and) is an escalation all by itself."

In Louisiana, masked police in full body armor carrying AR-15 assault rifles raided a nightclub without a warrant, looking not for terrorists but underage drinkers and fire-code violations. Officers in California train using the same counterinsurgency tactics as those used in Afghanistan.

"They're not coming in like we're innocent until proven guilty," said Quinn Eaker. SWAT teams last August raided his organic farm and community, the Garden of Eden, in Arlington, Texas. "They're coming in like: 'We're gonna kill you if you move a finger.'"

Police found no drugs or weapons and filed no charges after their search, which authorities said followed standard procedure.

In 1990, Congress authorized the Pentagon to give surplus equipment to police to help fight drugs, which then gave way to the fight against terrorism. Though violent crime nationwide is at its lowest level in generations and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have largely concluded, the military transfers have increased.

Police say the equipment, which includes free body armor, night vision goggles and scopes, keeps officers safe and prepares them for the worst case.

"A lot evolved from the military, no question," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Chief Bill McSweeney, who heads the detective division. "Is it smart for them to use that stuff and perhaps look like soldiers from Iraq going into a place? Is that smart or over the top? I'd say generally that's smart. Now, if you use that every time a guy is writing bad checks, that's getting rather extreme."

The U.S. has provided 610 mine-resistant armored trucks, known as MRAPs, across the country, nearly all since August 2013, including at least nine in Los Angeles County, according to Michelle McCaskill, a spokeswoman for the Defense Logistics Agency.

In rural western Maine, the Oxford County Sheriff's Office, which had not reported a murder in more than 20 years, asked for an MRAP. Cpl. George Cayer, wrote in his request that Maine's western foothills face a "previously unimaginable threat from terrorist activities."

In Orange County, Florida, masked officers in tactical gear helped state inspectors raid barber shops in 2010 to find people cutting hair without a license. Using a mini battering ram and pry bar at times, police arrested dozens of people. Officials said they found illegal items such as drugs and a weapon.

McSweeney said it's hard to argue that police shouldn't use the best equipment available.

"It's tempting to say, 'Shouldn't we wear these things? Shouldn't we approach this as if we could get shot?'" he said. "How do you say no to that question?"

Nick Gragnani, executive director of the St. Louis Area Regional Response System, said such supplies have proved essential in hurricane relief efforts and other disaster responses.

"The shame of it will be ... if somebody does a brushstroke and takes out all the funding and then we can no longer be prepared for that big incident," he said.

The LAPD's deputy chief, Michael Downing, who heads the department's counterterrorism and special operations bureau, said officers are dealing with "an adversary who is more sophisticated, more tactically trained."

Downing emphasized that though police might train with soldiers, they're not warriors with a mission to kill but public servants with no "enemies."

"In police work there are times we have to become soldiers and control through force and fear," Downing said. "But we have to come back to being a public servant as quick as we can to establish that normality and that ethical stature with communities, because they're the ones who give us the authority to do our police work."

Comments

holysee

looking at YOU huron police chief!

WeThePeople1965

Not only that but Norwalk.

knowitall

How would PIB handle a Humvee?

knowitall

Give it to ISIS.

grumpy

Another demonstration of what BIG gov't does. Are you happy with expanding gov't and what they do? If so keep voting for those who want to expand BIG gov't. This is what you can expect.

KnuckleDragger

Amen, finally something I agree with Eric Holder on.

abigbear

not to fast wait and see what the other hand is doing as they are always transparent and TRUTHFUL in EVERYTHING..

Julian

Just to provide an update on this un-updated article, The Missouri State Highway Patrol has now been using tear gas, smoke, riot gear, and armored vehicles the night the curfew was implemented. Protestors were also throwing rocks at police, and one officer was injured. One person has also been shot and critically wounded, not expected to live, and a round was fired into a passing police vehicle.

If this isn't enough to justify the use of military equipment, I don't know what is. We are not talking about tanks, we are talking about armored vehicles that would protect against rocks and gunfire, should an emergency situation present itself. I hope that most people are not naïve enough to believe that something like this could never happen in their community. When it happens, the people involved will be grateful if any of this equipment assists them in their protection and saving their life, or the lives of their family members and friends.

Some people choose to complain, and don't care, unless it happens to them.

knowitall

Good points. I am not sure how it gets distributed. State police maybe is ok in my opinion. As long as they get training. Local police is another story. Norwalk does not need riot vehicles. If it gets to that, call in the national guard or state police.
Remember Kent State and the national guard. They were even trained....I assume.

just observing

I have much more confidence in the Norwalk Police who knows and are members of the local community than the highway patrol who should be restricted to traffic enforcement and backing up the local police if called upon.
In Missouri the state turned over the problem to the highway patrol and a captain who happens to be black and has had the same results as the local and county police, the highway patrol refused to protect stores from looting when requested to do so by the owners. At Kent State that was the problem untrained national guardsmens thrown into a no win situation, even today the guard does not have the same level of civil training that specified police units do, they would be a good back up logistic support for the local authorities. they are military and are trained in that manner.

Señor Clown

Just an update to your uninformed opinion - there were no issues with violent protestors or crowd control until the county police showed up in force, dressed like special ops soldiers on deployment in Afghanistan, pointing battle rifles and automatic weapons at an unarmed crowd, kettling in protestors and ordering them to disperse while giving them nowhere to escape to, and then firing upon the panicked crowd and press with rubber bullets, LRADs, smoke grenades, and tear gas.

They also gassed unarmed TV news crews 'for their own safety' just for filming the event. News journalists and local elected officials were illegally detained by police without being arrested. The officers involved were so excited to get to dress up in their army costumes and intimidate a bunch of civilians with their DOD 1033 armored trucks and Homeland Security grant anti-terrorism combat loadouts that nobody ever stopped to follow accepted protocol for de-escalation of civil unrest: Meeting with protesters as peers, listening to what they have to say, and having a peaceful dialogue. You know, much like happened when the MSHP and Capt. Johnson initially relieved the county police.

Surprise, surprise - Simply not antagonizing protesters actually works. Getting a percent of a crowd of ten thousand riled up enough to throw rocks, after showing up with a military presence and tear gassing a crowd, is not justification to preemptively show up with a military presence. If something like this ever happens in your community, the War On Drugs military surplus equipment and DHS Anti-Terrorism tactical weapons and training are not going to be used to protect the lives of your family members and friends - they will be used as tools of intimidation in a hostile law enforcement vs. frightened civilian confrontation.

just observing

No police would equal no animal like mob behavior that we have witnessed in Missouri? The rioting started the first night before the police mobilized. The business many of them minority owned has been looted by a portion of the mob, many of them taking advantage of the situation to do what criminals do, break the law. After a few nights Capt. Johnson and the State Highway Patrol are now using the same tactics but refuse to protect property owners. The surplus military equipment being used is defensive in natural, not offensive. What a rose colored world you must live in.

The Big Dog's back

Certainly not yours thank God.

Julian

There would have been a riot no matter what, simple as that. And if journalists, politicians, and peaceful protestors want to stand shoulder to shoulder with rioters that are looting and shooting guns into crowds in a riot zone, then plan on being contacted by the police. They should have stayed home, nobody told them to be there.
I also don't think frightened civilians shoot guns at innocent people, those people are called murderers.

By they way, I think you have been playing Call of Duty way too much.

Presto

Re:
"Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said he will introduce legislation to reverse police militarization."

Reverse (police) militarization?

Militarization is impossible to reverse.

Macho war mongering dudes with big guns thinking they're big sh*t (ie "militarization") never stops lol.

This can't be "reversed" obviously - look back thru time at any highly militarized society. No reversing just bigger guns and more macho men until someone "wins" (ie everyone else is dead).

Sounds a bit "overblown" i know i know

It's where we're at. Norwalk Police is ready to roll (over anyone/everyone/thing) with their big macho men gun "transporter" too wow lol

Professor Playdoh

And here we just sell it to the public....

knowitall

Lol. I got to get me one of those big azzed vehicles. I'll get me a concealed carry license and keep,that big azzed vehicle under my coat.

ram03

Perhaps law abiding citizens should also be given access to acquire some of this equipment.

Presto

P.S.

RE:

(Eric Holder) "I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message."

Sends a Conflicting Message?????

No, the message is loud and clear.

It's a military police situation. Nothing more and nothing less. A mild one but you've got military personel firing on their own citizens using military equipment. Yep that's a military police situation.

The sad part is normal regular citizens can't ever do anything about these situations. They couldn't do anything about what was going on in Germany, Russia,China,N Korea, Syria, Iraq, Gaza, etc etc etc (for infinity)

Theres just nothing unarmed (or poorly armed/organized) people can do in the face of well armed & organized people. Period end of story.

Our local police departments are actively SEEKING and hiring ex-military personel as well. They've boasted about this with the spin of "helping them get good jobs after their military service". (which would be awesome if this were the real reason they've been hired in droves).

Hate to send a conflicting message.....?

Lets help Eric out a bit here-

"The Employment of military personnel, along with the purchase (for "Free"!) and deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a very CLEAR message"....

Much better :-)

knowitall

It is clear to me too.

The Big Dog's back

Well, there is something you can do. VOTE! Recent history shows us that Repubs like war. And I know some right wingnuts will bring up how some Dems voted for the Iraq war. SOME! All the Repubs voted for it except one. This militarization of local police began with, and I know right wingnuts don't want to hear this, bush. To stop this insanity you need both Houses of Congress to legislatively change it. Ain't gonna happen as long as Repubs are in control.

Roger15

Dog,

Familiar with Hegelian Dialectic?

The Big Dog's back

Oh gee, another alex jones follower. Do you follow glen beck too?

KnuckleDragger

This from a Rachel Madcow follower.

The Big Dog's back

Seriously knuckle? Hegelian dialectic?

knowitall

Is that a derogatory term? Could be a disease. Maybe a relative of Kathryn Haegel? Dia means two so maybe it is two hegelians. Maybe they are related to the Romulans.

Roger15

Allow me...

http://www.amerikanexpose.com/he...

No real diff. Repubs/Dems

knowitall

Thank you Roger. I agree with ya after reading the definition. It does sound like something from Star Trek though. Lol

jazzb0

Its just a fancy word for Fox News.

Pages