In the past eight years, the Pentagon grant program has loaned local law enforcement some 200,000 ammunition magazines, 94,000 machine guns, and thousands of armored vehicles, aircraft, land mine detectors, silencers, and grenade launchers—all at the request of the local agencies themselves. But images of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, of police in military gear cracking down on peaceful protesters, have turned many communities against a program critics say has eroded the line between police officers and soldiers. […]
Even before police militarization made the news, hundreds of police departments were finding that grenade launchers, military firearms, and armored vehicles aren’t very useful to community policing. When Chelan County police officers requested one armored car in 2000—the request that landed them three tanks—they pictured a vehicle that could withstand bullets, not land mines. Law enforcement agencies across the country have quietly returned more than 6,000 unwanted or unusable items to the Pentagon in the last 10 years, according to Defense Department data provided toMother Jones by a spokeswoman for Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who has spearheaded a Senate investigation of the Pentagon program that is arming local police. Thousands more unwanted items have been transferred to other police departments.
But some agencies have found the process of getting rid of unwanted military gear next to impossible. Agencies can’t return or trade equipment without Defense Department approval, and because the Pentagon technically still owns the equipment, they can’t sell it.
According to interviews with state officials running point between the Pentagon and police, the Defense Department prefers to leave equipment in circulation whenever possible. “It’s a low-cost storage method for them,” says Robb Davis, the mayor pro tem of Davis. His town is trying to shake its MRAP. “They’re dumping these vehicles on us and saying, ‘Hey, these are still ours, but you have to maintain them for us.’”