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DPS: Military surplus helps police in dangerous situations

In this Aug. 17, 2014 file photo, police wait to advance after tear gas was used to disperse a crowd during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Since the shooting, many residents have been afraid to leave their homes at night as protesters clash with police in sometimes violent confrontations. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

PHOENIX -- Thousands of military weapons have been transferred to Arizona law enforcement agencies from the United States' Armed Forces since 2006.

Assault-style rifles, armored vehicles and aircraft are just a few types of military surplus that are used regularly in the Valley by local law enforcement.

"We primarily over the years have purchased at surplus Humvees and we use Humvees because, as a state agency, we have a lot of rural areas in our jurisdiction," said Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves.

"Vehicles are a big deal for us because we need to have the kind of vehicles that have steel-plated armor when we go into a dangerous situation with our SWAT team," he said.

The Pentagon-to-Police Transfer program has been criticized after clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson, Mo. Graves, however, said military surplus is a need for many law enforcement agencies like DPS.

"Vehicles are a big deal for us because we need to have the kind of vehicles that have steel-plated armor when we go into a dangerous situation with our SWAT team," he said. "In our case, vehicles are a constant need just by the amount of usage the highway patrol gives to vehicles across the state."

In the last eight years, Arizona's police departments have bought more than 500 guns, five helicopters and two planes from the Pentagon.

The Arizona ACLU has said the arming of police far outpaces any threat they may encounter.

"Tanks, sharp-shooting -- it's military grade equipment that they're using in communities," ACLU Arizona Executive Director Alessandra Soler said.

Soler accused police of conducting about 50,000 paramilitary raids annually using equipment provided in the wake of 9/11 that was supposed to be sued to fight terrorism.

"They were given equipment to fight terrorism but it's now being used to fight against the local communities," Soler explained. "The equipment far outpaces the threat and that's what the situation is (in Ferguson)."

Soler said it's basically a case of too many toys in the cabinet.

"They've been amassing it since 9/11 when we were spending all of these resources trying to defend the country," she said. "And now, where is this supposed to go?"

"They've been amassing it since 9/11 when we were spending all of these resources trying to defend the country," she said. "And now, where is this supposed to go?"

In the wake of the criticism, the U.S. said it is rethinking the program. President Barack Obama is also reviewing the program.

The review will be led by White House staff including the Domestic Policy Council, the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget, and agencies such as the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and Treasury. The officials say the review will be coordinated with Congress, where several lawmakers have called for a re-examination of the military-to-police programs.

Obama acknowledged that the images of well-armed police confronting protesters with combat weapons in Ferguson made it useful to review how local law enforcement agencies have used federal grants that permit them to obtain heavier armaments.

"There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don't want those lines blurred," Obama told reporters at the White House. "That would be contrary to our traditions."

The KTAR Newsroom and Associated Press contributed to this report.

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About the Author


Cooper Rummell is a Southern California native. He moved to Arizona in 2012 to pursue a bachelor's degree in journalism at ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Since May 2013, Cooper has worked as a desk anchor and reporter at KTAR. He has a passion for investigative political reporting and covering the local crime beat.

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