Louisville-area police defend against 'militarization' criticism - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Louisville-area police defend against 'militarization' criticism

Metro Police Sgt. Phil Russell (Source: WAVE 3 News) Metro Police Sgt. Phil Russell (Source: WAVE 3 News)
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) — Jefferson County law enforcement agencies have received hundreds of items, from body armor to sleeping bags, through a military surplus program.

The list, obtained by WAVE 3 News through an open records request, has received new scrutiny after criticism of how police have handled unrest in Ferguson, Mo. Onlookers have suggested that police in Missouri look “militarized” because of their gear and armored trucks, while others say it's needed to prevent chaos.

[MORE: Fury in Ferguson]

Obtaining such items has become increasingly easy as the U.S. military ends two wars and seeks to get rid of surplus items. In Jefferson County, Louisville Metro Police have accepted rifles and a robot, while other agencies asked for body armor and night vision equipment.

“We usually try to acquire items that we know we will need,” Metro Police Sgt. Phil Russell said. “The idea that we're militarized is a little bit of hyperbole.”

The 16 rifles that Metro Police has obtained under the program include 10 used for Honor Guard ceremonies, Russell said.

Unlike other departments, LMPD didn't accept an armored vehicle from the military. Metro Police has had an armored vehicle since 2002 and uses it for SWAT missions.

Agencies in three Kentucky counties – Kenton, McCracken and Henderson – received armored vehicles, federal records indicate.

President Barack Obama said during a Monday news conference that he would support a review of purchases made by police forces to make sure it was “stuff they actually need.”

“There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don't want those lines blurred,” the president told reporters.

In Indiana, officials from the Clark County Sheriff's Office told WAVE 3 News in July that they regularly look for surplus items on the military's website.

The sheriff's office has gotten an armored vehicle, Humvees and other items basically for free, IT director Kenny Hughbanks said.

Southern Indiana agencies have found armored trucks useful for criminal situations and weather emergencies. In one case, officers used military-style trucks to get police cruisers unstuck during a snowstorm, said Sgt. Jerry Goodin, a spokesman for Indiana State Police.

“There are a multitude of responses those vehicles can be used for,” Goodin said. “We're able to obtain them for very reduced prices – or free – so it's an obvious savings for the taxpayer.”

In one case, a Michigan sheriff decided that a free armored vehicle wasn't worth it.

Saginaw County Sheriff Bill Federspiel said he had decommissioned the vehicle because his agency had never used it in a tactical situation and it was costly to repair.

“We don't feel there's a need to have a lot of military equipment as a civilian police force,” Federspiel told NBC affiliate WEYI-TV.

To see the list of items Jefferson County agencies have obtained, click here.

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