The law enforcement response to protests following the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., brought a heated topic into the national dialogue: the militarization of the police
. Nationwide, viewers of the evening news were greeted with jaw-dropping images of a police force that more resembled an occupying army than a textbook law enforcement unit.
In municipalities across the United States, local police agencies have bulked up thanks to a previously little-discussed federal Department of Defense program called 1033. It’s a program that has doled out nearly $5 billion of leftover military equipment to local police departments, county sheriffs, and game wardens over the past 25 years.
And now, thanks to the Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that focuses on America’s criminal justice system, we know that Michigan agencies have received nearly $53 million of gear. The data stems from an itemized list quietly released by the feds last month, according to the Marshall Project
Many of the items are basic office supplies, but there are a few eyebrow-raising revelations: For instance, Livonia, for some reason, now possesses a grenade launcher for tear gas and smoke grenades. Dearborn Heights, Hamtramck, West Bloomfield, and Wixom received Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, which are “built to withstand armor-piercing roadside bombs,” according to a report released this year by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Garden City received $57,000 worth of gear, including six so-called “riot-type shotguns,” Deadline Detroit reports
Whether you believe the transition to a militarized police force benefits how law enforcement agencies protect their communities, the ACLU highlighted a point in its report worth repeating once more, as the Hits reported in August
There has been virtually no public oversight of the militarization of police units. “Not a single law enforcement agency in this investigation provided records containing all the information that the ACLU believes is necessary to undertake a thorough examination of police militarization,” the report says.
So here’s a question worth examining, now this information has been made public: Is it truly necessary for cities like Livonia and West Bloomfield to carry grenade launchers and mine-resistant armored vehicles — in the name of policing their communities?