published November 26, 2013
From war zones to city streets, some military vehicles are getting a new life — and not everyone is happy about the recycling.
The Defense Department recently announced it would be giving domestic law enforcement forces hulking vehicles designed to efficiently maneuver in a war zone for use in thwarting any potential high-scale activity.
This did not sit well with those who see a troubling trend: the militarization of local police departments, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which has criticized the Defense Department for giving 18-ton, $500,000 armor-protected military fighting vehicles to local forces.
ACLU affiliates have been collecting 2012 records to determine the extent of military hardware and tactics sent to police and plan 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.
Ohio State University campus police got one vehicle, 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 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. Their new Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle will go into service after technicians remove the gun turret and change the paint from military sand to civilian black.
Sheriff Craig 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.”
To be sure, there has been some concerns raised in the past.
Radley Balko, the author of “The Rise of the Warrior Cop,” argues that the police mind set in the country is to be like a soldier.
“Instead of bringing soldiers in to do domestic law enforcement, we have allowed, and even encouraged, police officers to basically be armed like, police like, use the tactics of, be dressed like and adopt the mind set of these soldiers,” he said at a CSPAN forum last summer. “And the outcome is just as troubling, I think, as if the military were actually doing domestic police themselves.”
In October, Reuters ran a column by Michael Shank and Elizabeth Beavers called “The Militarization of U.S. Police Forces” in which the authors called for Congress to permanently ban the transfer of all military-grade equipment to U.S. cities.
The column noted the Pentagon’s 1033 Program that allows the Defense Department to donate its surplus equipment. It pointed out allegations of fraud and abuse and called some of the machinery donated “impractical.”
“Shocking, almost comical, examples of abuse have been well-documented — from the officer who sold his weapons on eBay, to the one who lent his weapons to unauthorized friends and the police departments that lost the military weapons or tried to auction them off,” the column said.
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, however, just too good to pass up.
“It’s armored. It’s heavy. It’s intimidating. And it’s free,” said Apple.
Fox News’ Edmund DeMarche and The Associated Press contributed to this report