Military transfer program helps equip local law enforcement

By Joe Beck

Law enforcement agencies in Shenandoah, Warren and Frederick counties have been among many across the nation that have acquired surplus military equipment through a controversial Department of Defense program.

The Pentagon data shows a long list of rifles sent to Shenandoah, Frederick and Warren counties. Other military gear obtained by local law enforcement agencies includes night vision imaging equipment, shields to protect from bullets, and radios.

The rifles were the only potentially lethal item on the list. But the Pentagon also makes available imposing armored vehicles, aircraft and other military equipment that has drawn heavy criticism from across the political spectrum for contributing to the militarization of police forces.

The criticism has sharpened in the reaction to televised confrontations between police and protesters in Ferguson, Missouri. Civil libertarians and civil rights activists have argued that mine resistant vehicles and bulky, heavy equipment worn by police as protection have inflamed the protestors and contributed to outbreaks of violence in Ferguson.

Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy Carter said a Humvee used by deputies is valuable for patrolling and transport of people in places where the terrain makes it hard or impossible for lighter vehicles to operate.

“We have used it in a variety of ways as far as search and rescue and assistance during natural disasters,” Carter said of the Humvee.

Carter said the military rifles have been acquired as part of a nationwide trend among law enforcement agencies. Police have grown increasingly concerned about the ability of criminals and deranged killers to brandish the most lethal kinds of guns and ammunition during school shootings, bank robberies and other violent incidents, Carter said.

“Our ballistics were not matching up to what the criminals had,” Carter said.

Warren County Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron said he also welcomed the chance to acquire the rifles, which like the other military equipment, was used in the armed forces before it was offered to law enforcement.

“I think it’s been a good program to allow these agencies to obtain equipment without having to purchase it,” McEathron said. “The use of it is always going to be judged by others, which is fine. I would stand by the decisions that are made by those responsible for public safety, rather than somebody who just didn’t like it.”

Carter said military surplus equipment is part of his department’s overall effort to obtain “more tools to work with.”

“We have our own issues to deal with in Shenandoah County, and I don’t criticize other agencies,” Carter said, referring to the disorder in Ferguson and the role of military hardware used by police.

“I will say this program has been useful to us,” Carter added.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com