Police militarization necessary for law enforcement
Look no further than the Ferguson riots to comprehend why police departments around the country should possess surplus military equipment. This past August, the town of Ferguson, Missouri, was the subject of national news following the police shooting of unarmed suspect Michael Brown. Immediately after this incident, angered citizens took to the streets to protest in Ferguson and throughout the United States. These protesters assumed the guilt of the officer involved, even though our legal system is hinged upon the notion that individuals are innocent until proven guilty.
Before continuing, I would like to state that activists trying to achieve social justice in the U.S. are not criminalized, as a writer stated in the Targum. Unlike most other countries where one could be arrested, or even maimed, for nonviolent protest, the Constitution protects freedom of speech and assembly that is peaceful. However, the riots formed after the shooting were anything but peaceful and therefore had to be quelled by police due to their criminal nature. Over the next few weeks, Ferguson would experience looting and burning of local businesses in addition to fights, vandalism and a multitude of other crimes.
Due to the nature of the riots, additional police officers and military surplus gear was needed. During the riots, police officers were grossly outnumbered by and assaulted by the massive number of protesters. An Aug. 20 article in USA Today stated four police officers were injured after demonstrators threw rocks and glass bottles at them.
It is truly remarkable more officers were not harmed. In fact, the low number of injuries can be accredited to law enforcement’s utilization of surplus military gear. This gear, which included items such as Mine Resistant Ambush Protection vehicles, protective gear, first aid equipment and “less-than-lethal weapons,” like stun grenades and rubber bullets, reinforced officer safety and were deployed to defuse situations, so deadly force did not have to be used.
On the broader spectrum, the equipment is available to law enforcement agencies demonstrating a proper need through the Department of Defense 1033 Program. According to the DOD, departments are eligible to receive surplus military gear that would otherwise be inactive or destroyed. In addition to containing large-scale riots, the equipment could be used to provide aid or vehicle evacuation in natural disasters or to respond to situations akin to the Boston Marathon bombings, where the suspects were armed and considered extremely dangerous.
In addition, this program has soared in popularity because departments are able to receive this equipment at little to no cost. Possibly the most important outcome of this program is it has allowed law enforcement agencies to save money and reapply those funds to other needed areas — in essence, spreading the value of the taxpayer dollar.
Even with the positive benefits this program has achieved for law enforcement, it has been the subject of controversy, especially after the Ferguson riots. A major complaint of this program by opponents concerns the large number of weapons and vehicles being transferred to law enforcement. However, this is simply not the case. An Aug. 17 article from the Washington Times quoted a DOD official who stated that “Only 5 percent of the equipment transferred are weapons and less than 1 percent are tactical vehicles.” It is also important to note that the overwhelming majority of weapons transferred to law enforcement under the program are not true weapons of war, as they have been converted to function as semi-automatics.
So what exactly does the vast majority of the gear include? As specified by the DOD, it includes items like electronics, protective vests and optics as well as non-tactical equipment such as office supplies, clothing and tools. These types of equipment are even more beneficial to agencies due to their broad applications on both the daily and situational level. This program will continue to be essential to law enforcement agencies and help them better serve the people they are sworn to protect.
Michael Johansen is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science and psychology.