There is no need to explain the problems with giving cops excess military stuff. Radley Balko has already done so in his book, Rise of the Warrior Cop. But it presents an open question: With so many billions of dollars worth of military equipment no longer needed elsewhere, what should be done with it?
On the one hand, if police have it, they will use it. Not just for parades and trips to elementary schools, but against any threat to their authority, whether it is an unlawful chicken ranch or the neighborhood poker game. As Balko explains, this is like putting a loaded weapon in the hands of children, or military gear in the hands of civilian police. Bad things follow.
Much as I would love to have one of these big boys sitting in my driveway (and I seriously would, notwithstanding the gas mileage issues), the DoD has yet to ask me to take one off its hands. I would even be happy to sign a pledge to use it only for good, never for evil. But no.
Instead, they’re being offered to police:
“It’s armored. It’s heavy. It’s intimidating. And it’s free,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, among five county sheriff’s departments and three other police agencies in New York that have taken delivery of an MRAP.
But the trucks have limits. They are too big to travel on some bridges and roads and have a tendency to be tippy on uneven ground. And then there’s some cost of retrofitting them for civilian use and fueling the 36,000-pound behemoths that get about 5 miles to the gallon.
Even worse, they’re going to departments that have the least theoretical need for such heavy equipment.
An Associated Press investigation of the Defense Department military surplus program this year found that a disproportionate share of the $4.2 billion worth of property distributed since 1990 – everything from blankets to bayonets and Humvees – has been obtained by police and sheriff’s departments in rural areas with few officers and little crime.
Or colleges, like Ohio State, because they hasn’t seen their share of problems. Will the police who receive armored vehicles recognize the potential for danger?
Sheriff Apple rejected the idea that the nation’s police forces are becoming too militaristic.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “Our problem is we have to make sure we are prepared to respond to every type of crisis.”
This suggests that the police, unlike me, will not only have little reluctance to use this military equipment inappropriately, but will do so with enormous verve and élan. After all, they have really cool toys and it’s not like they perceive any problem using them to fetch the donuts.
But even if handing this cool stuff over to the cops may not be the best idea around, there remains this huge wealth of surplus military equipment with nowhere to go. We’ve spent a huge fortune on this equipment for the critical mission of
stopping Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction freeing the Iraqi people so they can war amongst themselves. Now what?