TRI In The News
Small-Town America Rebels Against 'Police State' Arsenal
By Leo Hohmann
Thousands of MRAP military vehicles like this one have been distributed to police departments throughout the U.S. in recent years.
Residents of an Idaho town are asking their city council to return an armored vehicle to the federal government and just say no to militarization.
John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, said he was contacted by a group of residents from Nampa, Idaho, and asked to urge their elected leaders to send the town’s military-grade equipment back where it belongs — to the Pentagon. Of particular concern is a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, or MRAP, acquired with grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The discussion of whether local police need machine guns, night-vision scopes or an armored vehicle needs to engage the entire community, and should not be unilaterally decided by the federal government, the military, or law enforcement, Whitehead said.
“Whenever this kind of armament is brought into a community, it should only be done with the knowledge and consent of the citizenry,” Whitehead, a constitutional attorney based in Charlottesville, Virginia, said in a statement released to WND.
Law enforcement agencies across the country have quietly returned more than 6,000 unwanted or unusable items to the Pentagon in the last 10 years, according to a report by Mother Jones.
And the trend seems to be gaining steam since the August unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. That’s when many Americans got their first glimpse of camouflage-clad cops roving the streets in tanks and armored vehicles, blurring the lines between police and soldiers.
Recently, in response to a local outcry over aggressive policing tactics, San Jose, California’s police department announced plans to return its MRAP, and the Los Angeles school system police department has agreed to return its three grenade launchers.
Whitehead said military recycling programs carry hidden costs and result in heightened risk for the community by transforming local police into extensions of the military.
The Rutherford Institute’s letter to Nampa Mayor Bob Henry can be read here:
While local police departments often argue that MRAPs and other military hardware are essential “tools” in the fight against drug crimes, the reality is that violent crime nationwide is at a 40-year low, Whitehead says in the letter.
“Most of this equipment is not only largely unnecessary but is completely incongruous with the security needs of smaller communities,” the letter states.
Nampa, in Canyon County, Idaho, has a population of just over 97,000.
Whitehead says 17,000 local police departments are equipped with military equipment ranging from Blackhawk helicopters and machine guns to grenade launchers, battering rams, explosives, chemical sprays, body armor, night vision, rappelling gear and armored vehicles. Some have tanks and others have drones.
Whether or not the use of such sophisticated military equipment is justified, many local police feel compelled to use it once they have it.
The misuse of military gear by police is a growing problem that has been documented in books such as Cheryl Chumley’s “Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare is Becoming Our Reality:” and Radley Balko’s “Rise of The Warrior Cop.”
Heavily armed SWAT units were introduced in the 1980s for the purpose of handling highly volatile hostage situations and confrontations with active shooters. But now they are rolled out for the most routine police procedures such as serving warrants.
SWAT raids, which numbered about 3,000 a year in the early 1980s, now occur over 80,000 times per year across America, according to research by Professor Peter Kraska, chair of the graduate program at the School of Justice at Eastern Kentucky University and author of the book “Militarizing The American Criminal Justice System: The Changing Roles of the Armed Forces and Police.”
WND previously reported on an incident in rural Habersham County, Georgia, in which a SWAT team threw a flash-bang grenade into a home where they believed a drug dealer was hiding out. The grenade landed in the crib of a 19-month-old boy and blew open his face. The toddler spent five weeks in the hospital following the May 28 incident which the local sheriff called “a mistake.”
Little “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh has had to undergo multiple reconstructive surgeries, including the reattachment of his nose, and is still badly scarred. The drug dealer was arrested later that same night at a different house and the family maintains they have no involvement in illegal drugs. A Habersham grand jury has been meeting for the past week to consider a possible criminal indictment against the Sheriff’s Office.
“While we all want our law enforcement officers to be able to do their job, which is to maintain the peace and uphold the Constitution, and we want them to be safe and protected while doing so, we cannot afford to sacrifice our freedoms in the process,” said Whitehead, author of “A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.”
He believes it will take local citizen activists stepping up to roll back the police state.
“The American police force is not supposed to be a branch of the military but exists for a sole purpose: To serve and protect the citizens of each and every American community,” he said. “Thus, it now falls to local governing bodies to restore the rightful balance between the citizenry and those appointed to safeguard their freedoms.”
Local police agencies in all 50 states and four U.S. territories participate in the Pentagon’s 1033 “recycling” program, and the share of equipment and weaponry delivered to local communities each year continues to expand.
Since 1990, the 1033 program has transferred $4.2 billion worth of military weaponry and equipment from the Pentagon to domestic police agencies, much of it in the name of fighting the war on drugs.
The MRAP is an intimidating part of this “recycling” program. Weighing in at 20 tons, an MRAP is built to withstand everything from small arms fire to IED bomb blasts that were common during the Iraq War but unlikely to be encountered during domestic policing.
And, as many small cities have discovered, the costs of maintaining an MRAP can quickly add up.
“While supposedly acquired for little up front, these $733,000 battering rams come with hidden costs that can add up to tens of thousands of dollars yearly in maintenance and repair,” Whitehead said.
However, as Whitehead notes in his letter to the city council, when Homeland Security launched its 1033 surplus military equipment program, it laid the groundwork for a transformation of local law enforcement into extensions of the military, “upsetting a critical balance established by our Founding Fathers who warned against establishing a standing army that would see American citizens as potential combatants.”
For the sake of greater transparency, accountability, and oversight when it comes to police acquisition and deployment of military-grade equipment, Whitehead said The Rutherford Institute is recommending that the Nampa City Council adopt a policy of direct oversight to ensure that if local law enforcement acquires such weapons, they do so with the blessing of the community.