President Obama recently announced an executive order enhancing training and oversight for a program that transfers military surplus equipment to police departments throughout the nation. The program has come under scrutiny by critics who claim it fosters the "militarization" of the police.
Some of the gear transferred to police departments in California includes grenade launchers, high-powered military rifles, and mine-resistant armored vehicles. The Los Angeles Times reports that more than $160 million dollars worth of equipment has been transferred to California law enforcement agencies over the last several years from the Pentagon. Some of these agencies operate throughout Orange County.
Of course the police do have a challenging job and often face circumstances where heavy weaponry may be needed. But there is a troubling trend. As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down after more than a decade, there is surely going to be a glut of military hardware available. Even with the president's efforts to control the program more effectively, the militarization of the police should be a cause for concern. For instance, the protests in Ferguson, MO indicate that the equipment used to respond to peaceful protests may exacerbate problems. The police in Ferguson used heavily armored vehicles in order to keep order. At what point does the armor and weaponry the police employ ostracize the very people they are sworn to protect? There is no easy answer but such a question will gain increased attention as the program shows no sign of ending.