FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – People across the country are raising concerns about the types of weapons police are using on the protesters in Ferguson. Several law enforcement agencies get surplus military equipment from the government. However, some believe cities’ uses of it have become excessive.
Rep. Hank Johnson, (D-GA), has been working on the “Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act” for about a year. He said the events in Ferguson, MO highlight the need for the bill. Johnson said the weapons shouldn’t be routinely used against Americans and just given away freely by the government. He said city streets should be a place for businesses and families not tanks and M16s.
“Automatic weapons, weapons that are higher than 50 caliber, armored vehicles, armored drones, silencers, stun grenades,” Johnson said. He said he doesn’t have a problem with these departments buying the weapons on the open market in certain situations. “The police departments are under the authority of the civilian representatives that the people have voted to represent them, so they vote on whether or not to spend the public money.”
The Huntington Sheriff’s Department applied for some of the equipment and was awarded assault rifles, hummers, and some computer equipment. He said the hummers were a great help during the harsh winter. They allowed officers to rescue stranded people and transport food, medicine, and sick people.
Most of the departments that receive the equipment either apply for it or receive government grants to buy it. In Indiana, there have been 12 MRAPS given away. Those are the armored trucks built to withstand roadside bombs. Huntington Sheriff Terry Stoffel said his department didn’t receive any of the larger military equipment, and he said his department really doesn’t need it but said every department’s demographics are different. Stoffel said all of his officers were properly trained on the equipment they received. He also said there is a large amount of accountability within the program. He said the department is required to do quarterly weapons checks. He said without the program smaller departments wouldn’t have access to this type of equipment.
“Especially in the smaller communities, where we can’t afford to buy a lot of this stuff,” Stoffel said.
The program from the Department of Defense began in 1991. In those 23 years, departments nationally have gotten more than $5 billion worth of surplus equipment.