There has been an ongoing debate about how local law enforcement departments are becoming more militarised. A controversial federal program allows surplus equipment to get recycled or rather passed down to local municipalities. Now the Mobile County Sheriff’s is making a request for more military equipment. Often what comes to mind are armored vehicles and assault weapons. But as News 5 learned after touring the Sheriff’s Office headquarters, some of the “military grade” goods included used forklifts, safes, tool chests, wrenches, and even boots.
“Well, the federal government would destroy it would go wasted if they did not share it with us because it’s where they have overspent,” said Sheriff Sam Cochran.
But, in the past, the Office has also taken in rifles, and night vision binoculars, most of that equipment, however, was so old, it was returned. With that said one of the items now on Sheriff Cochran’s wish list includes a military vehicle, one that he says many know as a Bearcat, a tough heavy duty truck used overseas in conflict zones.
“Sure it’s necessary, you know police are expected to be the first responders in acts of terrorism, and we are the first ones.”
But request like this now requires consent from the Mobile County Commission. 2-1 commissioners voted to approve. Commissioner Merceria Ludgood dissented. In a written statement she told us, “It goes without saying the safety of our law enforcement officials is paramount. I believe, however, that we send the wrong message when we utilize equipment designed for military application in a civilian setting. The federal government recognized the blurring of the lines when it required local governments to vote affirmatively to pursue this course of action. I voted not to approve the purchase of military equipment for use by the Sheriff Department because I do not believe its use is appropriate in a nonmilitary setting. Additionally, this action does nothing to improve relationships between law enforcement and the public. In fact, it may very well have the opposite effect.“
That sentiment echoes those of President Barack Obama who about two years ago banned military vehicles and related weapons from being transferred to local police departments. He’s since eased off that policy making it possible for departments to get certain requests approved. Sheriff Cochran points to attacks around to explain why he’s making the request.
“And we see more and more of it, San Bernardino, the Orlando night club, we’ve seen it all over Europe. We’re being advised of that, we’re being trained of that, how to respond to those things,” said Cochran.
Additionally, he says the trucks would be used for rescue scenarios, such as flooding. And in the case of the Bearcat, he says it’s the same truck already available to law enforcement agencies. So if he didn’t seize this opportunity to get something worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, essentially for free, he would still have to consider purchasing it.
“It’s the simplest fact, who would want to send an officer into a deadly without the proper equipment?”