Hundreds of thousands of pieces of military gear passed into the hands of local police departments

Wired has an interesting story about the amount of military gear that is now in the hands of local police departments:

Small police departments across America are collecting battlefield-grade arsenals thanks to a program that allows them to get their hands on military surplus equipment – amphibious tanks, night-vision goggles, and even barber chairs or underwear – at virtually no cost, except for shipment and maintenance…

In 2011 alone, more than 700,000 items were transferred to police departments for a total value of $500 million. This year, as of May 15, police departments already acquired almost $400 million worth of stuff. Last year’s record would have certainly been shattered if the Arizona Republic hadn’t revealed in early May that a local police department used the program to stockpile equipment – and then sold the gear to others, something that is strictly forbidden. Three weeks after the revelation, the Pentagon decided to partly suspend distribution of surplus material until all agencies could put together an up-to-date inventory of all the stuff they got through the years. A second effort, which gives federal grants to police departments to purchase equipment, is still ongoing, however. According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, since 9/11, the grants have totaled $34 billion…

Officials in these Police Departments still maintain that these costs and this apparently unnecessary equipment are worth it. “If you can save one life,” said Lieutenant Tim Clouse of the Tupelo Police Department referring to a missing person they were able to spot thanks to the chopper, “it was very much worth it.” Pierce, from Cobb County, echoes the thought. “If it saves one life then it’s worth the money and the effort put into it.”…

According to Stamper, having small local police departments go around with tanks and military gear has “a chilling effect on any effort to strengthen the relationship” between the community and the cops. And that’s not the only danger. “There’s no justification for them having that kind of equipment, for one obvious reason, and that is if they have it, they will find a way to use it. And if they use it they will misuse it altogether too many times,” said Stamper. What happened a year ago in Arizona, when army veteran Jose Guerena was shot down during a drug raid that found no drugs in his house, could very well be an example of that misuse.

It would be intriguing to see how local residents would respond to seeing such gear being used in their community, perhaps nearby or even on their street. Imagine you are minding your own business in the front yard and all of the sudden one of Nebraska’s “three amphibious eight-wheeled tanks” comes your way. Kind of shatters the image of suburban or more rural pastoralism. Actually, this could make for a Hollywood action film: local ne’er-do-well breaks into the local police department, takes the keys for the local tank from the snoozing cop, and goes on a rampage.

If some local departments have all of this gear, do they use it regularly in the public eye? If not, why not? Will some of it be on display at local July 4th parades?

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