Toys for big boys: Gifting our police with military gear

Counties that have received military equipment from the Defense Department. From the New York Times. Click <a href="">here for NYT's interactive map.</a>
Counties that have received military equipment from the Defense Department. From the NY Times. Click here for NYT’s interactive map.

Those who’ve been following the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo., this week have undoubtedly seen or read commentary about the militarization of our local police departments. If you’re curious about what surplus military equipment the Defense Department has given to your county, see the excellent interactive map posted by the New York Times a few days ago.

My county is the proud recipient of 41 assault rifles, 2 night vision pieces, and 2 armored vehicles. Hardly worth mentioning compared to, say, Maricopa County, Ariz., where General Sheriff Joe Arpaio is in charge: 1,696 night vision pieces, 406 assault rifles, 128 pistols, 36 body armor pieces, 9 shotguns, 7 other armored vehicles, 5 helicopters, 4 mine-resistant vehicles (aka MRAPs), and 2 planes.

The rationale, of course, is to help your local police protect your annual pumpkin festival from terrorists who might target it. I cite pumpkin festivals because comedian John Oliver did so on his show last night. He made some other good points, too.

26 thoughts on “Toys for big boys: Gifting our police with military gear

    1. And I’d always thought it was more a figure of speech than an actuality. I’ve had discussions where I’ve said I thought the police needed to be able to outgun the bad guys, and I’ll admit it’s nice for the police if they can get some surplus gear for free. But it’s ridiculous and highly irresponsible to give cops these sophisticated weapons of war without the proper training in their use. And it’s highly irresponsible for cops to use all that stuff for situations that don’t call for it — as in Ferguson. As I noted before, giving that kind of gear to John Wayne types already pumped up on testosterone and adrenaline is a recipe for disaster.

      1. Amen. This seems an outrageous over reaction to the threat of terrorism since 9/11. If we give up all the good things about the U.S.(our rights to civil treatment and equal justice) because we are afraid of a bunch of religious extremists in the Middle East, it does not seem that the end justifies the means. If Ferguson has a positive side, it has been in drawing attention to this sort of nonsense. This is a real threat to the health of our society. Police need adequate weaponry and protection; they do not need tanks.

        1. I’ve ranted repeatedly in this blog about the continuing overreaction to terrorism in the wake of 9/11. We’re doing to ourselves what the terrorists could never have dreamed of doing. We’re turning on each other, suspicious of everyone. We’re spending unholy amounts of money to support a Department of Homeland Security that routinely violates our constitutional rights — in order to “protect us.” Destroying the village in order to save it? Who’ll protect us from the protector?

      1. Good idea PT, though I already knew enough about Maricopa County to figure it out.

        On a side note: do you think the dingbats will seize upon Attorney General Holder being sent to investigate as a way to hang this all around the neck of President Obama?

          1. I think it is respectful to refer to our country’s elected leader at Mr. President, or President Obama, or Mr.Obama. I don’t know how the current familiarity (or contempt) crept into our public conversations, but I don’t like it.

          2. I usually say “Pres. Obama,” at least on first mention in a story, much as I’d treat any other name and title, and use the surname only in subsequent mentions. That’s the style I was taught. In comments, I tend to drop formalities and take shortcuts.

          3. Yes, you’re A-OK on this. I apologize–sometimes I tend to go a bit bananas when I see a plain-vanilla “Obama” in print rather the more elaborate designation.

    1. I assume you meant IEDs. The rioters may resort to those when the MRAPs start rolling in. Then, of course, the police will escalate and bring in … what? … bombers? Yeah, that’s the ticket. Bomb those rioting SOBs into oblivion. That’ll teach ’em. Just flatten their part of town.

      You know, I woke up this morning wondering what would happen in Ferguson if all the cops and National Guard troops and press just left. There’d be no one to fight against or yell at, no one to protest against or to, no cameras to perform for, no reporters to impress …

      1. I was wondering the same thing last night PT, as I watched the live coverage on CNN and MSNBC. Of course, that was right after I thought I’d be able to see much better if they reserved their craziness for the daylight hours!

  1. That’s a good interactive map. I was surprised to see that little old Joplin (Jasper County) has an MRAP somewhere. They don’t flaunt it – maybe the sheriff has it. Maybe it’ll be a float in the Christmas parade. 38 assault rifles too.

    I am sympathetic to the police across the country. They have a tough and dangerous job, one that has only gotten more so because of our insane gun culture and right-wing resistance to common sense gun control. But the blame doesn’t lie with the individual cops. They have no choice but to be part of whatever the culture is, and it ain’t good in most places. This problem needs leadership and a culture change in almost every area.

    I blame Congress most of all. Under the law, the DOD was supposed to exercise judgement over how and to whom to hand out the excess war goodies. What a joke. It’s free stuff, or almost free, and counties are going to take it. There’s no way the civil servants in the DoD are going to be seen as favoring one county over another – that’s pure politics.

    There used to be some wise people in Congress. Tip O’Neil and Daniel Patrick Moynihan come to mind. They’re gone and their like are nowhere to be seen as far as I can tell.

    1. Local police chiefs and other officials are responsible for setting the tone and attitude of their officers, and for enforcing it. Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson has shown himself to be inept and tone-deaf in both his press conferences and in ordering his officers into the area in full military combat gear, not to mention their threatening attitude with rifles raised and pointed at unarmed and, at first, peaceful demonstrators. Also, their manhandling and attempted intimidation of reporters. What Jackson didn’t order, he condoned by his silence. And what sort of attitude prevails when a young man’s body is left lying in the street for hours without so much as a sheet thrown over it?

      Even in our current gun culture, there’s no justification for acting as the Ferguson police have. If the DOD is going to continue supplying people like this with military hardware, it better be prepared to also supply the necessary training in how and when to deploy such gear, as well as when not to deploy it.

      Yes, the members of Congress have failed too. In so many ways. For so long. They’ve abdicated their responsibility to and for their constituents in order to play their inside-the-beltway politics. The rest of the country is just so much background noise.

  2. I love your use of strike-through. Heh!

    On a more serious note, yes, this business about militarizing the police is ridiculous. I’d rather see the money go toward sticking a camera on each cop’s chest. Apparently both use of force and citizen complaints go down in departments where cameras are part of the uniform. It’s human nature to rein in aggressiveness when you know you’re being filmed, so the cops aren’t as brutal and the miscreants aren’t going to make up b.s. stories about brutality where none has occurred.

    1. I’m sure Gen. Joe would appreciate my promoting him. 😉

      The first question everyone asked about the Brown shooting was what did the dash cam show. And of course there was no cam. The government should provide and require cameras, not guns.

  3. Thought it well worth revisiting your post regarding the police and their inherited military gear. It has been brought to the local residents attention here in Arkansas regarding the fact that a number of these gifted military items have been stolen. The Federal Government has put at least three police agencies on suspension from receiving further gear and eleven others are facing temporary suspension here within the State. It’s been noted from that another 184 agencies across the US have been put on temporary suspension. Some of the items have been recovered.

    According to across the country along with military gear being misplaced, lost or stolen some individuals within the police agencies are selling the weapons to third parties. Here is a link to the article from…

    1. Why am I not surprised? I’ll bet more than a few of those missing rifles went home with the cops who had access. Rather like an office worker taking office supplies.

... and that's my two cents