Local law enforcement response to new access to military surplus - Tucson News Now

Local law enforcement response to new access to military surplus

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Police departments will once again be able to purchase or receive free surplus military equipment after President Trump over turned a ban on some equipment put in place by President Obama following the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri three years ago.

Civil rights groups opposed the move saying the appearance of militarization of police can oftentimes lead to violence.

There are still some restrictions on items such as tanks, but now police forces will have the capability of receiving high powered rifles, such as M-16's and grenade launchers.

In announcing the lifting of the restrictions, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said "We will not put superficial concerns above public safety."

"Here we go again," said Michael Polakowski, a U of A PhD, who specializes in criminal justice. "There's got to be a national debate and we don't have that."

He says national leadership on the question of whether militarization creates more violence is needed but does not expect it from the current administration.

Polakowski says studies back him up that may very well be the case.

"Anytime you introduce military equipment into the equation, I think that ramps up the possibility for violent confrontation to occur," he said.

An interactive map shows many law enforcement jurisdictions in Arizona buy or receive surplus military equipment, but the Pima County Sheriff's Department says it should be used sparingly.

Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier issued this statement to KOLD News 13 on Monday afternoon, Aug. 28:

Surplus military equipment can have an appropriate uses and utilization in civilian law enforcement.  Military vehicles can serve as rescue platforms and have other capabilities that are not present in vehicles available in the civilian marketplace.  Other military equipment may have appropriate uses to augment the tactical capabilities of local law enforcement.  The transfer of military equipment that is no longer serviceable for military purposes to local law enforcement (at no cost) supplements local law enforcement capabilities, without additional costs to local taxpayers.  It is the responsibility of law enforcement leadership to ensure that such equipment is never inappropriately deployed and only used in accord with specific public safety operations.  Moreover, it is also incumbent upon leadership to be mindful of the sensitivities and sentiments of the public regarding the appearance of the militarization of local law enforcement.  The Pima County Sheriff’s Department has no interest in militarizing its operations or appearance.  However, we are open to accepting surplus equipment that can increase our capabilities, make operations safer for our personnel and enhance public safety in our County.  

One reason given by local law enforcement is tight budgets preclude them from purchasing some of the equipment the need, like night goggles and other vehicles.

There's near unanimous agreement that police budgets are not what they should be especially when municipal budgets are overwhelmed.

"We do not fund our law enforcement very well," said Polakowski. "We need to do a better job of that."

But he questions whether that means law enforcement needs surplus M-16's and grenade launchers.

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