Michigan police get $43M in military gear

An armored vehicle owned by the Barry County Sheriff's Office. (March 13, 2014)
An armored vehicle owned by the Barry County Sheriff's Office. (March 13, 2014)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan police agencies have received $43 million worth of surplus military equipment, including 17 mine-resistant armored fighting vehicles and 1,795 M16 automatic rifles, since 2006, a review of public records shows.

The Detroit Free Press said it reviewed items that the Pentagon transferred to Michigan law enforcement. It said the list of 128,000 items also includes 165 utility trucks, three observation helicopters, 696 M14 rifles, 630 bayonets and scabbards and nine grenade launchers.

Transfers of military equipment has come under scrutiny since the high visibility of such items in Ferguson, Missouri, as authorities responded to protests against the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9.

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Federal officials won’t identify specific agencies getting the equipment, but the newspaper said the 4,000-resident village of Dundee in Monroe County got a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, or MRAP.

The Macomb County sheriff’s department got 79 M-16 rifles, the Free Press said. All were converted from automatic to semi-automatic under the department’s policy, said Sgt. Phil Abdoo.

In 1990, Congress authorized the Defense Department to give surplus equipment to police to help fight drugs, which then gave way to the fight against terrorism. The military transfers have increased in recent years.

Ex-Livonia police Chief Robert Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, said many agencies have turned to federal surplus programs because of budget cuts.

“Police have been forced to put all of their revenue toward personnel, and it’s almost eliminated capital outlay,” he said. Inexpensive or free federal programs sometimes are the “only option” for police to obtain even basic items, he said.

“You need that equipment ready and hope that you never use it. The fact that you never use it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have it,” Stevenson said. “Your police department needs to be as well-armed as the people they encounter.”

The American Civil Liberties Union reviewed cases where police used military equipment and concluded that the practice “causes serious problems for undermining public confidence,” said group senior counsel Kara Dansky and author of the report. “Overly militarized police view people in the community as the enemy.”

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Information from: Detroit Free Press

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