LITTLE ROCK, AR - In July, Fox 16 News, reported on Arkansas law enforcement agencies adding military-like equipment to their arsenal. After research, agencies have received what some might call an alarming amount of military grade equipment, nearly 30 million dollars.
The fallout from the Michael Brown shooting has put the spotlight directly on the apparent militarization of law enforcement.
Coverage of the protests in the aftermath of the fatal shooting by a police officer clearly shows law enforcement with military equipment and combat ready weaponry.
According to the Department of Defense and other federal agencies, military surplus equipment that is no longer in use overseas, is sent or offered to local law enforcement agencies every year.
"We are not militarizing our law enforcement,” said John Kerbyt, Pentagon Press Secretary. “We are not pushing things out. It's a process by which this equipment is available should they deem that they need it and they want it."
It appears Arkansas law enforcement agencies both want and need it.
According to documents the Defense Logistics Agency, since February of 2009, Arkansas law enforcement agencies have received nearly $30 million--nearly half of that amount was authorized for a $733,000 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle, or MRAP.
Currently there are 17 of these bulletproof vehicles in the state.
Law enforcement said they're necessary, especially when SWAT teams are deployed.
“It's important to us to make sure our officers on those teams have maximum ballistic protection. This vehicle provides that,” said Major Lateyette Woods of the Jefferson County Sheriff Department.
A closer look at the data shows which counties have qualified and received the most military equipment.
Randolph County is at the top of the list with nearly $6 million ($5,778,195). Of that, $5.3 million was for an army cargo plane.
Pulaski County received nearly five million ($4,990,332), followed by Benton County (2,483,271), Saline County (1,976,737) and Lonoke County ($1,145,183).
According to the inventory list - law enforcement agencies were equipped with M-16 rifles, automatic pistols, night vision goggles, grenade launchers, and armored vehicles in addition to the MRAPs. All thanks to what's called the 1033 program which congress established in the 1990s.
The federal program allows law enforcement agencies to receive (at a substantially reduced cost) military grade equipment that if left unused would be destroyed.
But in light of the events in Ferguson, the program has come under fire and has now caught the attention of the White House.
President Obama said, “Ithink it is probably useful for us to review how the funding has gone because there is a big difference between our military and local law enforcement and we don't want to blur those lines."
Reviewing the Military Surplus Program is one idea but Georgia Representative Hank Johnson is taking it a step further. He wants to demilitarize domestic police forces.
“Our main streets should be a place for business, families and relaxation, not tanks and M16s,” he said
He plans on introducing his bill in September when congress returns from summer recess.
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