The effort to turn your local police department into a quasi-military force is on the march again.
Monday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order rescinding limits on transferring some unused military equipment to local and state police departments. President Barack Obama first imposed those limits following the violence in Ferguson, Mo.
Obama was worried that police officers brandishing military weapons could antagonize civilians. Trump doesn’t care about that at all.
Instead, police and sheriffs’ departments across the nation, including those in the Kansas City area, can once again load up on free grenade launchers and armored vehicles that the Pentagon no longer needs.
No one wants law enforcement officers to approach dangerous situations without proper protection. Armored vests, knee pads and face shields often fit the should-have category, particularly in highly populated areas.
But it is troubling that some police officials continue to see themselves not as peace officers but as heavily armed occupying troops.
There is no clear reason why a police department or a sheriff’s office needs a surplus MRAP — a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle that once cost $733,000. Landmines are not a common threat in the region (don’t tell the NRA).
Yet a 2014 study showed at least four such vehicles in our area: two in Johnson County, one in Jackson County and one in Clay County.
In fact, local law enforcement agencies have grabbed a long list of Army gear over the years. Jackson County agencies have obtained trucks, night sights for weapons, bomb-disposing robots and rifles. Johnson and Wyandotte county police agencies got those too.
The Kansas City Police Department did not respond to a request Monday for more information about the use of military surplus equipment. One database says the force received $335,000 in equipment through the end of 2014.
Since 1991, a government study found, the Defense Department has transferred $6 billion in surplus equipment to local, state and federal agencies.
Much of the gear has gone to small departments: By August 2016, nearly one-third of the surplus equipment had been distributed to departments with 10 or fewer officers.
Authorities say the equipment can protect the health and safety of officers responding to dangerous situations. They also say the program extends the useful life of war materiel taxpayers have already paid for.
But what’s the full cost? Increasingly, civilians refuse to cooperate with investigators when violent crimes are committed. Police departments armed more for Beirut than Brookside could be a reason why.
Criminals and terrorists are watching.
Reasonable use of surplus military gear for protection is warranted.
An occupying army, riding into neighborhoods in battle-tested MRAPs, is not.