Column: Law enforcement becoming more militarized in response to civil unrest

Column: Law enforcement becoming more militarized in response to civil unrest

Weapons such as M-16s, grenade launchers and armored vehicles are common on the war front in Iraq and Afghanistan, but within the past decade local police have been acquiring military equipment that has everyday use on the front lines of war.

For example, the University of Central Florida obtained 23 M-16s and a modified grenade launcher as a part of the federal 1033 program, which provides free and discount military equipment to local law enforcement. UCF is home to over 60,000 students and a Division 1 football team, but does that make the militarization of campus police a necessary action in order to protect students and handle crowd control issues at large events?

Over 124 campuses across the nation have participated in this program in the last decade, and more are expected to join in the next few years.

Some purchases are merely of uniforms, but others have included mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, which could make many campus student and community citizens very wary of law enforcement agents.

Many universities which participate in this program defend their decision by referencing tragedies such as the 2007 Virginia Tech Massacre, where 32 students and professors were gunned down in the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history, as well as the Sandy Hook incident in 2012, where a gunman walked into an elementary school and killed 20 young children and 6 instructors. Both of these tragedies strike a chord in most people’s hearts when it comes to campus and school safety, and as more and more school shootings are brought to light, some feel that the militarization of police is a necessary act to protect them from the craziness of the world where they live.

Despite the feeling of safety that ostensibly comes from knowing that the local law enforcement agencies are well-armed, however, many others feel that local authorities will abuse their newly acquired military equipment, e.g. by using excessive force to handle situations such as protests and demonstrations.

The federal 1033 program is officially supported by the Pentagon and the Department of Defense, and has issued grants to each state for law enforcement to receive discount and free military supplies for under budgeted law enforcement agencies. The supplies usually include tactical vests, uniforms, and first aid supplies, although there have been a number of cases where universities and municipalities have purchased large quantities of high caliber ammunition, semi-automatic firearms, and various crowd control gases.

Laws are supposedly in place to ensure that participants do not abuse the use of their newly acquired equipment. As the world becomes an exceedingly more dangerous place to live with threats from terrorist groups such as ISIS, however, the lines between excessive force and precautionary actions are becoming blurred. Americans must understand that the world is changing more now that it did in the previous century, with new technologies and governments. People must determine for themselves whether they are willing to acknowledge the fact that law enforcement agencies are preparing to protect both their country and citizens from international and domestic enemies who threaten to disrupt the peace and liberty of America.

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