Fore Note: Thought some might find the stories below interesting
in light of the recent controversy over the military equipment
obtained by county officials.
Coming to a Police Dept.
Why does a police
department which hasn’t had an officer killed in the
line of duty in over 125 years in a town of less
than 20,000 people need tactical military vests like
those used by soldiers in Afghanistan? For that
matter, why does a police department in a city of
35,000 people need a military-grade helicopter? And
what possible use could police at Ohio State
University have for acquiring a heavily-armored
vehicle intended to withstand IED blasts?
Why are police departments across the country
acquiring heavy-duty military equipment and
weaponry? For the same reason that perfectly good
roads get repaved, perfectly good equipment gets
retired and replaced, and perfectly good employees
spend their days twiddling their thumbs—and all of
it at taxpayer expense. It’s called make-work
programs, except in this case, instead of
unnecessary busy work to keep people employed,
communities across America are finding themselves
“gifted” with drones, tanks, grenade launchers and
other military equipment better suited to the
battlefield. And as I document in my book, A
Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police
State, it’s all being done through federal programs
that allow the military to “gift”
battlefield-appropriate weapons, vehicles and
equipment to domestic police departments across the
It’s a Trojan Horse, of course, one that
is sold to communities as a benefit, all
the while the real purpose is to keep
the defense industry churning out
profits, bring police departments in
line with the military, and establish a
standing army. As journalists Andrew
Becker and G. W. Schulz report in their
insightful piece, “Local Cops Ready for
War With Homeland Security-Funded
Military Weapons,” federal grants
provided by the Department of Homeland
Security (DHS) have “transformed local
police departments into small, army-like
forces, and put intimidating equipment
into the hands of civilian officers. And
that is raising questions about whether
the strategy has gone too far, creating
a culture and capability that
jeopardizes public safety and civil
rights while creating an expensive false
sense of security.” For example, note
Becker and Schulz:
In Montgomery County, Texas, the sheriff’s
department owns a $300,000 pilotless surveillance
drone, like those used to hunt down al Qaeda
terrorists in the remote tribal regions of Pakistan
and Afghanistan. In Augusta, Maine, with fewer than
20,000 people and where an officer hasn’t died from
gunfire in the line of duty in more than 125 years,
police bought eight $1,500 tactical vests. Police in
Des Moines, Iowa, bought two $180,000 bomb-disarming
robots, while an Arizona sheriff is now the proud
owner of a surplus Army tank.
Small counties and cities throughout the country
are now being “gifted” with 20-ton Mine Resistant
Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles. MRAPs are built to
withstand IED blasts, a function which seems
unnecessary for any form of domestic policing, yet
police in Jefferson County, New York, Boise and
Nampa, Idaho, as well as High Springs, Florida, have
all acquired MRAPs. Police in West Lafayette,
Indiana also have an MRAP, valued at half a million
Universities are getting in on the program as
well. In September 2013, the Ohio State University
Department of Public Safety acquired an MRAP, which
a university spokesperson said will be used for
“officer rescue, hostage scenarios, bomb
evaluation,” situations which are not increasingly
common on OSU’s campus. In reality, it will be used
for crowd control at football games.
Almost 13,000 agencies in all 50 states and four
U.S. territories participate in the military
“recycling” program, and the share of equipment and
weaponry gifted each year continues to expand. In
2011, $500 million worth of military equipment was
distributed to law enforcement agencies throughout
the country. That number jumped to $546 million in
2012. Since 1990, $4.2 billion worth of equipment
has been transferred from the Defense Department to
domestic police agencies through the 1033 program,
in addition to various other programs supposedly
aimed at fighting the so-called War on Drugs and War
on Terror. For example, the Department of Homeland
Security has delivered roughly $34 billion to police
departments throughout the country since 9/11,
ostensibly to purchase more gear for their steady
growing arsenals of military weapons and equipment.
It doesn’t look like this trend towards the
militarization of domestic police forces will be
slowing down anytime soon, either. In fact, it seems
to have opened up a new market for military
contractors. According to a December 2011 report,
“the homeland security market for state and local
agencies is projected to reach $19.2 billion by
2014, up from an estimated $15.8 billion in fiscal
In addition to being an astounding waste of
taxpayer money, this equipping of police with
military-grade equipment and weapons also gives rise
to a dangerous mindset in which police feel
compelled to put their newly high-power toys and
weapons to use. The results are deadly, as can be
seen in the growing numbers of unarmed civilians
shot by police during relatively routine encounters
and in the use of SWAT teams to carry out relatively
routine tasks. For example, a team of police in
Austin, Texas broke into a home in order to search
for a stolen koi fish. In Florida, over 50
barbershops were raided by police donning masks and
guns in order to enforce barber licensing laws.
Thus, while recycling unused military equipment
might sound thrifty and practical, the ramifications
are proving to be far more dangerous and deadly.
This is what happens when you have police not only
acquiring the gear of American soldiers, but also
the mindset of an army occupying hostile territory.
In this way, the American citizen is no longer seen
as an employer or master to be served by public
servants like police officers. With police playing
the part of soldiers on the battlefield and the
American citizen left to play the part of an enemy
combatant, it’s a pretty safe bet that this
particular exercise in the absurd will not have a
Spoils of war: Police getting leftover Iraq trucks
QUEENSBURY, N.Y. (AP) -- Coming soon to your
local sheriff: 18-ton, armor-protected military fighting vehicles
with gun turrets and bulletproof glass that were once the U.S.
answer to roadside bombs during the Iraq war.
The hulking vehicles, built for about $500,000
each at the height of the war, are among the biggest pieces of
equipment that the Defense Department is giving to law enforcement
agencies under a national military surplus program.
For police and sheriff's departments, which
have scooped up 165 of the mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles,
or MRAPS, since they became available this summer, the price and the
ability to deliver shock and awe while serving warrants or dealing
with hostage standoffs was just too good to pass up.
"It's armored. It's heavy. It's intimidating.
And it's free," said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, among five
county sheriff's departments and three other police agencies in New
York that have taken delivery of an MRAP.
But the trucks have limits. They are too big
to travel on some bridges and roads and have a tendency to be tippy
on uneven ground. And then there's some cost of retrofitting them
for civilian use and fueling the 36,000-pound behemoths that get
about 5 miles to the gallon.
The American Civil Liberties Union is
criticizing what it sees as the increasing militarization of the
nation's police. ACLU affiliates have been collecting 2012 records
to determine the extent of military hardware and tactics acquired by
police, planning to issue a report early next year.
"One of our concerns with this is it has a
tendency to escalate violence," said ACLU Center for Justice senior
counsel Kara Dansky.
An Associated Press investigation of the
Defense Department military surplus program this year found that a
disproportionate share of the $4.2 billion worth of property
distributed since 1990 - everything from blankets to bayonets and
Humvees - has been obtained by police and sheriff's departments in
rural areas with few officers and little crime.
After the initial 165 of the MRAP trucks were
distributed this year, military officials say police have requests
in for 731 more, but none are available.
Ohio State University campus police got one,
saying they would use it in large-scale emergencies and to provide a
police presence on football game days. Others went to police in High
Springs, Fla., and the sheriff's office in Dallas County, Texas.
In Boise, Idaho, police reported using their
MRAP two weeks ago to serve a warrant, saying they had evidence the
suspect might be heavily armed and have explosives. Authorities said
they found 100 pounds of bomb-making material and two guns. A second
MRAP from nearby Nampa's police department was used to shield
officers and neighbors from a possible explosion.
In New York, the Albany County sheriff's
department already had four smaller military-surplus Humvees, which
have been used for storm evacuations and to pull trees out of
roadways. The new MRAP truck will go into service after technicians
remove the gun turret and change the paint from military sand to
Sheriff Apple rejected the idea that the
nation's police forces are becoming too militaristic.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," he
said. "Our problem is we have to make sure we are prepared to
respond to every type of crisis."
For example, he said, if SWAT teams need to
get close to a shooter or get bystanders safely away from one, the
MRAP would be the vehicle of choice.
In Warren County, at the southern edge of the
Adirondack Mountains, Undersheriff Shawn Lamouree said its MRAP,
which can hold six people and reach 65 mph, will have its turret
closed up except for a small slot, the only place to fire a gun. Its
bulletproof windows don't open. The proposed retrofit, including new
seating, loudspeakers and emergency lights, would cost an estimated
$70,000. The department has applied for grants.
"We have no plans of mounting a machine gun,"
he said. "The whole idea is to protect the occupants."
While Warren County's Lamouree acknowledged
the MRAP will likely spend most of its time in a heated garage, with
"minimal" maintenance costs, it could be used occasionally by the
emergency response team, which has used armored vehicles to serve
"We live in the North Country," he said. "It's
very common for people to have high-powered hunting rifles."
In one recent incident, a team used its
armored military-surplus Humvee to approach a barricaded suspect,
similar to a circumstance in which it might use the MRAP.
"We rolled the Humvee in the front yard, gave
a couple of commands and he said, `OK, I'm coming out," said
investigator Jeff Gildersleeve. "That's the way we like them to
Others in New York that got big armored trucks
included sheriff's departments in Jefferson County, Steuben County
and Sullivan County, and police in Nassau County, Plattsburgh and
Hamburg Village. Police departments statewide have also acquired
almost 150 other trucks and Humvees, a dozen of them armored, over
the past two years.