Public records show that police agencies across Michigan have obtained $43 million worth of surplus military gear since 2006, including 17 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) and over 1,700 M-16 automatic rifles.
The Detroit Free Press reviewed items transferred from the Pentagon to Michigan law enforcement and found the list of 128,000 items included three helicopters, nine grenade launchers, 165 utility trucks, 696 M-14 rifles, 630 bayonets and scabbards, and 32 12-gauge shotguns.
Federal officials won’t say which agencies got which equipment, but the Free Press’s review showed that it wasn’t just going to large cities with the highest crime rates, but to some of the state’s smallest towns. Dundee police, who serve an area of about 4,000 residents, received an MRAP; Barry County, with a population just under 60,000, got five grenade launchers.
More than 8,000 law enforcement agencies across the country participate in the federal surplus program, according to the Defense Logistics Agency. Michigan’s $43 million worth of gear is just part of the $4.3 billion worth transferred since the program began in 1997.
The agencies receiving the gear say that they need it to stay ahead of the criminals who are more heavily armed than they are, but a report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) revealed that police departments are using the equipment for routine procedures such as serving search warrants.
The ACLU’s report included several incidents where excessive use of military-grade equipment either led to the death or severe injury of innocent people.
- A 19-month-old boy was critically wounded and had to be placed in a medically induced coma after a Georgia SWAT team threw a flash grenade that landed in his crib. The police were executing a warrant to search for a relative regarding a $50 drug deal.
- A 26-year-old woman, holding her 14-month-old son, was killed when a SWAT team broke down the door of her home in Lima, Ohio, and opened fire. The team was looking for her boyfriend on suspicion of drug dealing. The child was injured, but survived.
- A 7-year-old girl was killed as she slept on her living room couch when a SWAT team threw a flash grenade through the window, which burned her blanket. A member of the SWAT team went into the house and fired a single shot, killing the child. The murder suspect they were searching for lived on a different level of the duplex and surrendered without incident.
“Militarization of policing encourages officers to adopt a ‘warrior mentality,” the report stated, “and think of the people they are supposed to serve as enemies.”
Looking at the tactics police officers have used in the situation in Ferguson, it’s not hard to see this mentality displayed in the images from the nightly protests. Law enforcement officers have the right to protect themselves, but policing the city dressed as though war has broken out does nothing to help keep the peace. It just creates a “them vs. us” scenario, which helps neither the police nor the citizens they have sworn to protect.
To see the types and amount of military-grade equipment police agencies have in your area, use the online database at the Detroit Free Press.