A rising trend of military surplus purchases is sparking a debate about the militarization of police departments, raising questions about whether weapons meant for war belong in America’s small towns.
M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, and silencers are among the weapons making their way into police departments. Surprisingly, the military surplus buys don’t end there. In Johnson County, Indiana, law enforcement sparked a debate when they purchased a 55,000 pound, six-wheeled mine-proof armored vehicle, referred to as an MRAP, according to IndyStar. Though Sheriff Doug Cox admits that mines are few and far between in Johnson County, Sheriff Michael Gayer, of neighboring Pulaski county, population 13,124, argues that a military style approach may be necessary for law enforcement:
“The United States of America has become a war zone. There’s violence in the workplace, there’s violence in schools and there’s violence in the streets. You are seeing police departments going to a semi-military format because of the threats we have to counteract. If driving a military vehicle is going to protect officers, then that’s what I’m going to do.”
Similar debates have arisen in other communities as well, like Neenah, Wisconsin. As The New York Times reports, residents of the 25,000 person city, which has a crime rate far below the national average and hasn’t reported a homicide in over five years, openly question the need for police departments to make such purchases.
Defenders of the practice say that is saves police departments money, and also takes advantage of gear that otherwise would go unused. The Johnson County police department reportedly paid only $5,000 for the MRAP, far less than its original price of $733,000. Police departments can purchase surplus gear through a military-transfer program created by Congress in the 1990’s, which is part of the federal Defense Logistics Agency, and often pay only delivery costs for the weapons.
Critics of the practice, however, question the need for police departments to adopt military equipment. While the number of SWAT teams across the nation has skyrocketed since the 1980’s, opponents fear a burgeoning industry is developing around turning Homeland Security grants into military-grade weapons. Radley Balko, writing in The Rise Of The Warrior Cop, addressed fears that military contractors are increasingly marketing to police:
“A new industry appears to be emerging just to convert those grants into battle-grade gear. That means we’ll soon have powerful private interests, funded by government grants, who will lobby for more government grants to pay for further militarization — a police industrial complex.”
Opponents also say that the increased militarization of police forces has changed the way departments see themselves. According to Neenah Police Chief Kevin E. Wilkinson, police officers are now trained to move in and save lives, instead of isolating and waiting out shooting suspects. Proactive approaches can sometimes go awry however. As The Inquisitr previously reported, a toddler in Georgia was left in a coma after police performing a raid threw a flash grenade into the child’s crib. Critics also allege that military weapons in the hands of police will serve to escalate dangerous situations that could otherwise be diffused.
[Images via Motherboard and PressTv]