As the war in Afghanistan winds down, local police departments across the U.S. are snapping up leftover military equipment like M-16s, grenade launchers, and armored trucks from the Department of Defense. And why wouldn't they, when they're getting the gear for free?
A program instituted in the early '90s allows police departments to request equipment that the DOD no longer needs, forcing citizens to contend with the fearful prospect of cops who are armed like soldiers. According to the New York Times, cops have received a staggering amount of weaponry in recent years:
During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.
The Times visited Neenah, Wisconsin, population 25,000, which recently received a 30-ton military truck called a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle, or MRAP. Some residents questioned the logic of bringing an army-grade combat machine to a town that hasn't seen a homicide in five years:
"It just seems like ramping up a police department for a problem we don't have," said Shay Korittnig, a father of two who spoke against getting the armored truck at a recent public meeting in Neenah. "This is not what I was looking for when I moved here, that my children would view their local police officer as an M-16-toting, SWAT-apparel-wearing officer."
In Morgan County, Indiana, the sheriff's department justified its MRAP by suggesting that returning U.S. veterans may pose a threat to the area, echoing a Department of Homeland Security report that caused a dustup on the right in 2009:
"You have a lot of people who are coming out of the military that have the ability and knowledge to build I.E.D.'s and to defeat law enforcement techniques," Sgt. Dan Downing of the Morgan County Sheriff's Department told the local Fox affiliate, referring to improvised explosive devices, or homemade bombs. Sergeant Downing did not return a message seeking comment.
Back in Neenah, William Pollnow Jr., a city councilman who opposed the MRAP, said that any time he questioned the decision, he got the same chilling response: to be against the equipment transfers is to be against the safety of cops.
"Who's going to be against that? You're against the police coming home safe at night?" he said. "But you can always present a worst-case scenario. You can use that as a framework to get anything."
[Image via AP]