Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Rural law enforcement not happy with Obama administration's call to return military equipment

Local law enforcement agencies that for years have been stocking up on military gear through a U.S. Department of Defense program that allows the transfer of military property that is no longer needed are now voicing their displeasure about notifications from the Obama administration asking for the equipment to be returned, Timothy Williams reports for The New York Times. Hundreds of law enforcement offices have been asked to return the equipment by April 1. (Military Today photo: Some local law enforcement agencies have M-113 armored vehicles.)

A report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said that the equipment has "resulted in more aggressive tactics by departments, particularly in minority neighborhoods, leading to deaths and serious injuries," Williams writes. "In one 2014 episode highlighted by the ACLU, a heavily armed police officer in Cornelia, Ga., threw a stun grenade into a playpen during a raid, blowing a hole in the face of a 19-month-old baby and causing severe burns. The officer was not criminally charged."

But local law enforcement agencies say recent shootings—such as the ones in California and Colorado—highlight a need for officers to be heavily armed, Williams writes. "They point out that fears about terrorism have spread to the smallest communities. They also say that the equipment has been helpful amid tight county budgeting and that it is used in all sorts of ways that do not involve civil unrest or terrorism, including training exercises and confrontations with gunmen. Armored vehicles, which move on tanklike tracks, are often used for search-and-rescue operations after storms or floods to navigate rough terrain, they say."

Sheriff Larry Amerson of rural Calhoun County, Alabama, who was ordered to send back his department’s M-113 armored vehicle, told Williams, "Take them away from anyone who used them improperly, absolutely, but don’t punish everyone. Now, if we have an active-shooter situation with an armed person, we don’t have any piece of equipment to move in safely for my deputies or the people I’m sworn to protect.”

Sheriff Lorin W. Nielsen of rural Bannock County, Idaho, who returned his department’s M-113 in December, argues that "tracked vehicles can climb steep hills and travel along unpaved roads, a significant advantage over other vehicles," Williams writes. He told Williams, “We have some pretty rough terrain here, and we feel like they took a major tool out of our toolbox." (Read more)

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