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Pepper-Spraying Protesters Is Just the Beginning: Here Are More Hypermilitarized Weapons Your Local Police Force Could Employ

By arming local police departments with military grade equipment, domestic policing has come to resemble a combat operation with citizens as the enemy.

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In 1997, an even greater amount of military equipment was passed on to local police departments thanks to the National Defense Authorization Security Act, which created the  Law Enforcement Support Program, an agency tasked with accelerating the transfer of military equipment to civilian police departments. By the end of 2005, the new agency facilitated the distribution of $727 million worth of Pentagon equipment to some 17,000 police departments around the country.  Among the hand-me-downs were aircraft such as Blackhawk helicopters, nearly 8,000 M-16 rifles, a couple hundred grenade launchers, 8,131 bulletproof helmets and 1,161 pairs of night-vision goggles.

Then came the war on terror, which prompted the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002 under President George W. Bush. With it came the introduction of DHS grants, which are used to purchase policing equipment. While the grants allow law enforcement agencies to stock up on much-needed walkie-talkies and bulletproof vests, they have also led to the purchase of tanks, surveillance towers and even drones for domestic policing. 

The police department in Washington County, Minnesota just purchased a 9-ton armored vehicle called the BearCat with a $237,000 DHS grant. The BearCat, which has bullet-resistant windows, gun ports, a battering ram on the front bumper, a tear-gas dispenser and a public address system, is quickly becoming the must-have item of the season. Missouri's Springfield Police Department's Special Response Team used a $200,000 DHS grant to purchase a Lenco BearCat G3 in July, but is still excitedly awaiting its arrival. Chief Paul Williams told reporters, "It's a Humvee on steroids." 

The Vermont State Police are now the proud owners of a BearCat G3 as well. A $189,400 DHS grant, in addition to $65,998 worth of forfeited assets from convicted drug dealers, were used to cover the vehicle's $255,398 cost. The state police say they plan on sharing it with city and county law enforcement agencies, should they “face an active shooter, high-risk warrant subject, or barricaded suspect.”

It’s not just tanks -- or more appropriately, armored personnel vehicles -- that police departments are purchasing with DHS grants. Nick Turse recently reported on the mobile watchtower the NYPD has stationed by Zuccotti Park to keep an eye on the occupiers, but the NYPD isn’t the only police department equipped with an eye in the sky. Police in Norman, Oklahomapurchased their very own Skywatch mobile observation tower, which features a 25-foot-high observation platform that gives officers a birds-eye view of the crowds below.

While the newest models sell for about $96,000, the department found a used military surplus tower available for under $10,000, which they paid for with a DHS grant.  According to Captain Mike Praizner, the tower will make its debut appearance on Black Friday in the Sooner Mall parking lot. Praizner told the local NewsOK, “Just its presence in a parking lot will deter thieves,” adding, “You'll be seeing it a lot throughout the holiday shopping season at Sooner Mall, Ed Noble Parkway or sometimes in Walmart's parking lots.” Besides watching over consumers during the holiday shopping season, the Norman police plan on deploying the Skywatch to keep an eye out at big events such as football games and local festivals.

Norman isn’t the first town to patrol from above at local malls. In early 2009, the San Diego Police Department used a  $119,000 DHS grant to purchase a Skywatch tower, which was  used last year during a department-wide Holiday Watch patrol. From November 26 through January 14, the department towed the 25-foot-high tower around the county to thwart crime at shopping center parking lots.

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