BOARDMAN, Ohio (WKBN) – As authorities in Ferguson, Mo., brace for what could be another night of potentially violent protests, local law enforcement officials say police need to have access to surplus military equipment to help outfit their departments.
For example, a robot originally designed to help soldiers deal with explosives in Iraq and Afghanistan was recently obtained by the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force for use in looking for barricades suspects. It would have cost $10,000 to purchase it, but the task force obtained it through military surplus at a fraction of the cost.
And despite criticism of what some say is a militarization of local police, authorities said the surplus gear actually helps reduce the chances for people to get hurt.
“Instead of people going into a house, we could send that robot in and maybe we locate the person before we go in. Now we know he is there, then we take steps to reduce the amount of confrontation,” Task Force Commander Sgt. John Elberty said.
Although a lot has been made recently of local police obtaining heavy equipment, like the $750,000 armored personnel carriers known as M-RAPS, agencies like the Task Force also have been able to get things like backpacks and cold-weather gear through military surplus for just the cost of shipping, which saves thousands in local tax dollars.
“These vehicles [M-RAPS] are only being deployed and utilized with certain situations that they are effective with, which could be like the school shootings, bomb situations, or anything like that. It is the ability to be able to deploy a vehicle that has better armor on it to get close to a hot situation,” Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene said.
Others stress all the heavy equipment needs to be readily available in emergencies, pointing to the Virginia Tech shooting, where police did not have quick access to armored vehicles.
“Kids were jumping out the windows that were shot up and I believe one captain had a Ford Explorer and it was the closest he could get to that building because EMS couldn’t get close,” Greene said.
Local officers are reluctant to criticize or second-guess authorities in Ferguson, Mo., for their handling of protests there, instead saying they will learn from it.