Photos from Ferguson, Missouri, show police officers with military-grade body armor, mine-resistant trucks, silencers, and automatic rifles. The gear was outfitted by federal grants and military surplus, and was used by police officers in their clashes with protesters, some of whom were demonstrating peacefully.
Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery was working in Ferguson and told NPR the police officers’ weapons and munitions were “not standard-issue stuff.”
“This is the type of stuff that you see National Guards employ, not what you expect to see from a police officer in suburban St. Louis,” Lowery said.
President Obama has ordered a comprehensive review of the government’s strategy of outfitting local police departments with this type of equipment. The White House-led review will consider whether the government should provide the equipment and if so, whether local authorities have “sufficient training to use it appropriately.” Senior administration and law enforcement officials said the government will also consider whether it is keeping adequate track of equipment inventories, The New York Times reports. The review, along with proposed legislation and congressional hearings, could lead to major changes in how Washington deals with arming local law enforcement agencies.
The review will reportedly also look into a Pentagon program that transfers surplus military equipment to police departments. It was created by Congress in the 1990s to help fight drug crime. It expanded after 9/11 and has led to some police departments being outfitted with “aircraft, night-vision goggles and trucks built to survive buried roadside bombs.”
Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the government regarded the police as the frontline forces in a new war. While that role for local law enforcement is expected to remain, changes may be ordered to the system under which federal grants and a military surplus program have sent gear and money to police departments, often with no strings attached, to prepare for a terrorist attack.
In addition to wearing full body armor and firing tear gas at protesters, some Ferguson police officers were depicted in photos appearing to show them pointing assault rifles at crowds.
Former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis was among those who criticized police tactics in Ferguson. On Aug. 18, Davis spoke during CNN’s coverage of clashes between police and protesters. “Those weapons should be put down until there’s a threat that justifies them,” Davis said, after seeing a police officer sitting on a moving armored vehicle with a rifle pointed toward the crowd.