Law Enforcement Lobby Fights to Hold Onto Military Gear

Image: Law Enforcement Lobby Fights to Hold Onto Military Gear Law enforcement officers watch on during a protest on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Mo. (Micheal B. Thomas/Stringer/Getty Images)

Thursday, 28 Aug 2014 12:35 PM

By Andrea Billups

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The lobbying arm of law enforcement is pressing to keep military-style gear and equipment arguing it's needed for security and protection, The Hill  reported.

The move comes amid calls a demilitarization of police forces after the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

"We are the most vigorous law enforcement advocacy group and we intend to be at our most vigorous on this issue," Jim Pasco, the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, told The Hill.

His group and others representing law enforcement plan to hit up lawmakers hard, even before they return from recess, in an effort to continue using military-style gear that they say is needed to keep citizens safe.

They face a battle from the president as well as many Democrats who have been angered in the wake of racial tensions spurred after police took to the streets in Ferguson in riot gear and assault vehicles.

Police departments have been on the receiving end of federal largess for such surplus military-style equipment. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the Defense Department has passed along about $4.3 billion in gear and equipment since the 1990s from the Pentagon's 1033 program, the Hill said.

Now, a growing cadre wants such donations to police forces, which also come from the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department, to be stopped.

Pasco says many people are reacting from misinformation, and his group will work to re-educate them about why such protection is needed.

"It looks like the main thrust of our effort is going to be educational because there's an awful lot of misunderstanding and an awful lot of misinformation about this equipment as to its purposes and its application in civilian law enforcement," Pasco told The Hill. "They talk about these Humvees as if they're these weapons of mass destruction."

Equipment such as body armor, assault weapons and vehicle used by the police force in Ferguson in the aftermath of the Brown shooting did not come from the Pentagon, National Journal said. They were purchased by the department itself along with funds from the nearby St. Louis police department, a common practice among many forces around the nation.

Nonetheless, President Obama has called for a review of the military equipment practices as criticism continues over the handling of Ferguson after the shooting continues, The Washington Post reported.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, has planned congressional hearings on the issue in September. She told The Hill that she and her colleagues should "really think about whether or not we should be giving any federal funding to any local police jurisdiction" unless police forces agree to equip patrol cars with cameras, a suggestion police lobbying groups quickly took a dim view of.

"If you start penalizing police departments because they're not utilizing the equipment you feel they ought to be using, then you're really penalizing the citizens that department is charged with protecting," the FOP's Pasco told The Hill. "Since the job of an elected official is to provide for public safety, I'm sure that's not what Sen. McCaskill meant."

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