War Surplus Weapons Flow to Local Police Departments

Monday, 09 Jun 2014 07:25 AM

By Elliot Jager

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From small towns to big cities, local law enforcement is arming itself with surplus weapons of war, including automatic rifles, grenade launchers, and explosive-resistant personnel carriers, The New York Times reported.

Congress established a program in the 1990s that allowed U.S. armed forces to transfer discarded and surplus military equipment to local police departments. Despite an overall decline in crime nationwide, police chiefs are glad to get free equipment from the armed forces. With U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq winding down and the military shrinking, the equipment is no longer needed.

In Neenah, Wisconsin, population 25,000 — where there hasn't been a murder in over five years — police recently took custody of a mine-resistant truck.

City Councilman William Pollnow opposed getting the new vehicle. "Somebody has to be the first person to say 'Why are we doing this?'"

Resident Shay Korittnig agreed. "It just seems like ramping up a police department for a problem we don't have," the Times reported.

The federal surplus arsenal now in the hands of local police includes machine guns, ammunition magazines, camouflage outfits, night-vision paraphernalia, gun silencers, armored trucks and planes. Twenty-two states now possess mine-detection equipment.

Neenah Police Chief Kevin Wilkinson said he's saddened that the town is divided over the acquisition of the mine-resistant truck but that his department's existing armored car was obsolete against high-powered gunfire. "I don't like it. I wish it were the way it was when I was a kid."

More and more police departments have formed SWAT teams capable of a military-style show of force. In a recent standoff in Johnson City, Tennessee, police were armed with surplus Hummers, body armor, and M16s, according to the Johnson City Press.

Local law enforcement authorities say that in the post 9/11 environment, even an idyllic town can be the target of terrorism. There could also be a threat from returning U.S. veterans who have the know-how to construct improvised explosive devices, Fox News reported.

A sheriff's office in Maine justified the need for heavily armored vehicles on the grounds that the state's western foothills "face a previously unimaginable threat from terrorist activities," according to the Times.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, the police lost track of 12 assault rifles they'd obtained from the military surplus program, WSB-TV reported.

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