Local Departments Respond to Military Surplus Program Concerns

Tools

By Stephanie Tyrpak
By Jared Roberts

WSIL -- Local police and lawmakers are defending a federal program that finds new homes for military equipment with local law enforcement.

The unrest in the St. Louis area this week is shining a new spotlight on the way police are equipped. Some lawmakers are expressing concerns that law enforcement is starting to look and act too much like the military.
 
Republican Senator Rand Paul wrote this week that there should be a difference between a police response and a military response.  The view is shared by a Democratic Congressman from Georgia. Representative Hank Johnson plans to introduce a bill in September that would scale back the 1033 program.
 
However, other lawmakers are coming to the program's defense. 
 
"Properly used I don't have a problem with it," said U.S. Representative John Shimkus. "Improperly used, which may have happened in Ferguson, it's more of a leadership and training problem."
 
Some local agencies also believe it would be a shame to see everything from helicopters to dump trucks go to waste.
 
"It's new to us, it's new to everybody in the area, and at first glance it probably looks intimidating," said Williamson County Deputy Brian Murrah. "But they're tools."     
     
1033 provided the Williamson County Sheriff's Office with rifles and handguns. They also received a mine resistant vehicle. The department previously had to use a refurbished ambulance for high-risk situations.
     
"There was no protection for the people inside the vehicle," said Murrah. "It certainly was not, it wasn't even bullet resistant."
 
The department's treadmills and weights were also acquired through the program. Murrah says they're now searching for a refrigerated trailer.
 
"The towns and the counties don't have the budgets to buy the equipment," said Murrah. 
     
West Frankfort Police Chief Shawn Talluto can understand the concerns about Ferguson.
 
"Law enforcement needs to evaluate this whole scenario," said Talluto. "Tensions can run high, emotions can run high."
 
His department now has a mine resistant vehicle, weapons, and a humvee. Talluto feels it's more about using the tools the right way.
 
"School shootings that occur, things like that, the community and the citizens expect us to be prepared to be able to handle those situations," said Talluto.
 
Other counties in southern Illinois use the 1033 program to get supplies for natural disasters or daily operations. Pope county has received tents, a dump truck, and a bulldozer.
 
Congressman Johnson was working on the 1033 program legislation before the tensions in Ferguson.  The legislation has the support of the ACLU but would still face a tough fight in Congress.
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