War zone in Ferguson: officers equipped with military surplus ge - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

War zone in Ferguson: officers equipped with military surplus gear

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PHOENIX (KSAZ) - To a lot of people the images out of Ferguson, Missouri look like soldiers trying to take control of a war zone, not officers trying to control a crowd of protestors.

Buzzfeed.com took a photo from the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan and put it side to side with an officer in Ferguson.

Some say it's hard to tell which photo is Ferguson and which is from soldiers deployed overseas.

Part of the reason Ferguson Police looked a lot like soldiers at war is because they, like many police departments across America, have been receiving surplus military gear from the federal government.

An American street resembling a war zone. To some it comes as no surprise.

In the past few years the Department of Defense has transferred hundreds of armored vehicles, helicopters, and thousands of firearms used in recent wars to local law enforcement agencies.

Now some activists are questioning whether the federal government is helping militarize local officers and deputies.

"You know what, maybe we are at war against crime, and if you're at war you should have the resources to fight that war, and to protect the public," said Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Over the years MCSO has received military equipment such as assault rifles and the office's famous tank, which is not operational. It's more of a show of force.

"I've been taking military resources because we're saving taxpayer money, by the way, it's free so the taxpayers should be happy about this," said Arpaio.

The Arizona state coordinator for the program say a variety of used military equipment is distributed, not just battle gear.

"The DOD programs provide law enforcement agencies with any equipment from copy machines to first aid kits, to paper. If the DOD has an excess of anything, agencies can obtain that," said Matthew Van Camp.

But he says that local agencies can't request just any type of gear.

"We turn down requests where the justification for the item doesn't make sense," said Van Camp.
While the transfer program helps outfit departments with tight budgets with free gear, the critics say there should be a difference between a police and a military response.
"So why not use the equipment, put it in mothballs and forget about it when you can donate it to law enforcement... I would like to get a couple of jets if I could, if I could get a jet, we'll have a jet too," said Arpaio.
One interesting note, some of the tents used in the tent city when it originally opened 20 years ago were tents used by soldiers during the Korean War. A Georgia lawmaker is now pushing a bill that would stop the program from providing machine guns and other weapons to local agencies. The bill is called the "stop militarizing law enforcement act."
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