Ohio’s police departments are stockpiling military equipment and weapons, including mini-tanks, through a Defense Department program that gives communities free access to surplus gear.
Last year, Ohio police got $12 million in weapons and gear through the Pentagon program, which gave out $500 million worth of free military goods to law enforcement agencies around the country, according to the Dayton Daily News
Ken MacNevin, a spokesman for the Defense Logistics Agency, which administers the program, told the newspaper that tight budgets have led to “a tremendous increase in interest” in the program.
“The kinds of multiple-victim casualty incidents that have happened around the country also have been a driver,” he said.
Police officials say the program gives them access to expensive weapons they could not ordinarily afford while saving taxpayers money.
However, critics say the program is leading to more militarized police departments. They point to the increasing use of heavily armed SWAT teams, normally engaged only in hostage or other serious events, for serving search warrants or doing other routine police work.
As a result, they say, many innocent victims have been injured or even killed during raids.
Shakyra Diaz, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, told the Daily News the wars on drugs and terror have blurred the lines between police officers and soldiers.
“We cannot have our police looking at members of the community as military combatants,” Diaz said.
But police insist they need better weapons and equipment to deal with criminals, who are better armed as well.
“We can’t keep using the old tools when the criminal element is using the new tools,” said Englewood Police Chief Mark Brownfield.
In addition to tanks, M-16 rifles, bulletproof vests, helmets, chemical and biological gas masks, military vehicles, and computers, one Ohio police department got a free helicopter and another received a grenade launcher that fires tear gas canisters.
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