It was difficult not to be simultaneously perplexed, amused and encouraged reading through the lists of surplus military gear that’s been scooped up by our local law enforcement agencies.
I’m perplexed at things like the number of night-vision goggles acquired by the Sheriff’s Office — 559!
At that level, everyone down to the guy who cleans the toilets must have a set, and just how many covert ops do they go out on where night vision is preferred over a really bright spotlight?
The Sheriff’s Office has around 150 sworn patrol deputies — the people who might need this equipment. At that rate, they could each have three, with more than 100 still left over! One for the car, one for the office, one to go beside the tea cozy at home.
I’m amused at items such as the $6,500 Segway designed to shuttle around a fully suited bomb technician. I’m sure those outfits are bulky, but it’s not like this guy has to run a 5K in the thing.
And I’m encouraged by the cases of departments who actually decided they didn’t need some of their military-grade weapons and sent them off to someone else. A little restraint in law enforcement is always a good thing.
Despite all that, it’s clear from the proliferation of these military hand-me-downs that cops at the local level all across the country are outfitted in ways never seen before. And it’s not like your older brother passing you his pair of used sneakers.
It kind of makes me sad, not because of the potential for intimidation, but because no longer do they have to roll up to a standoff toting little pistols and using their car doors as shields. Now they’ve got AR-15s and armored vehicles equipped with rooftop sniper nests!
Add in all the other cool toys such as thermal-imaging cameras, tasers, ATVs and remote-control robots, and these programs start looking a little like Christmas morning at Ted Nugent’s house.
Not that I fault law enforcement for accepting the equipment. I’d take a free Segway too. I’m the guy who always grabs the pens and keychains they give away at vendor booths, so I can fully appreciate the lure of the free. You take the free pens and keychains and ask questions later.
The first one usually is, what did I take this stupid pen for? I need another pen like I need a hole in the head.
Speaking of potential holes in the head, should our police agencies then be accepting free assault rifles, body armor and personnel carriers? They wouldn’t be true, red-blooded Americans if they didn’t, right?
The difference is we should probably think a bit more carefully about the free flash-bang grenade than we did the free stress squeeze ball.
So critics’ concerns about these programs and the militarization of police are valid. It’s critical that our agencies take only what they need and can reasonably use, and that they provide the kind of training that determines whether the equipment is deployed correctly or becomes merely a punch line at best and a show of inappropriate and potentially deadly force at worst.
We definitely do not want to see here the kind of overzealous behavior displayed in the Ferguson, Mo., case, where heavily armed officers trained their weapons on unarmed protesters.
I trust our local law enforcement agencies will use these assets wisely and err on the side of outreach over aggression, and that these tools are used to protect the public, not oppress them.