Congress Reevaluating Militarization Of Local Police

Aug 21, 2014

Local police in Ferguson use military style vehicles during protests on Aug. 12.
Credit Courtesy of Danny Wicentowski for the Riverfront Times, @D_Towski on Twitter.

  Since law enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri, began using its federally supplied military-style equipment, the spotlight has been on police departments everywhere. Members of Congress have begun to question the program that distributes extra supplies to local law enforcement. 

The Pentagon has been supplying local law enforcement agencies with its surplus equipment for years, but most of the time, that equipment is out of sight.

Once police in Ferguson pulled out their armored vehicles and military-grade weapons, public debate was sparked.

Congressman Aaron Schock — a Republican — says the protest situation in Ferguson has him reevaluating the need for militarized police departments.

"I'm not sure I want an MRAP driving through my neighborhood," he said.

That stands for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected, the kind of armored vehicles troops are using now in the Middle East.

Still, Schock's fellow Republican, Congressman Rodney Davis, says the program distributes equipment with positive outcomes -- like humvees that rescue stranded drivers in bad weather.

"There's good uses for this equipment, there are uses that help everyday citizens and I think we need to be cautious not to take that opportunity away, too," he said.

Democratic U.S. Senator Dick Durbin also says Congress shouldn't take an all-or-nothing approach as it debates changing the program. He says the public has weapons of their own.

"Local law enforcement isn't dealing with daggers and bludgeons and small arms," he said. "They're many times facing military assault weapons."

Durbin sits on the Senate's armed forces appropriations subcommittee.