Militarization of local law enforcement

Tampa, Florida -- Violent clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson, Missouri have people around the country questioning and, in many cases, even criticizing the amount of military-like firepower now in the hands of local police departments.

For example, when Tampa police shot and killed Jason Westcott during a drug raid this past May, friends and family accused the department of using excessive military-like force. Just look on this Facebook page where a recent post attempts to draw parallels between Westcott's shooting and the events in Ferguson.

After fighting two wars in the Middle East, the U.S. military has more weapons, tear gas, surveillance and tactical equipment than it knows what to do with. So it's selling it to local police departments and sheriff's offices -- at a deep discount.

"Military actions are fundamentally different from police actions," says Stetson Law Professor Charlie Rose, an expert in Military law who is critical of the increasing overlap.

Statistics cited by The Rutherford Institute show military-style raids by police departments soaring from 3,000 in 1980 to 45,000 in 2001, and more than 80,000 per year in the past decade.

"When you take criminal law and you twist into it a militaristic approach, you run the risk of treading on constitutional concepts that are pretty sacred to us as a democracy," said Rose.

Bay area law enforcement agencies are among those increasing their military muscle.

Defense Department Records show sheriff's offices and police departments buying high-powered rifles, helicopter surveillance, and armored vehicles.

The Pasco Sheriff's Office, whose SWAT members undergo monthly training, has even gone to a more military-like uniform.

"We're not hiding anything. Yes we have the equipment. But trust in the Pasco Sheriff's Office that we're going to use it to protect our citizens and to protect out deputies," said Sheriff Chris Nocco.

As a result of the events in Ferguson, a Georgia Congressman says he plans to introduce a bill to place new limits on the type of military equipment available to local law enforcement agencies.

An online petition, asking the same, has already garnered thousands of signatures.

To see the Defense Department's list of Florida agencies and their military surplus purchases, click here.


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