Ferguson Police Response Spotlights Defense Program

The use of tactical weapons and gear by cops in Ferguson, Missouri, in a show of force against crowds protesting the shooting of an unarmed black teen by an officer has sparked a debate about police militarization and cast a spotlight on the Pentagon’s equipment transfer program.

Police departments across the country increasingly participate in the Defense Logistics Agency’s so-called Excess Property Program. The effort, also known as the 1033 program, dates to the early 1990s and authorizes the Pentagon to transfer to local law enforcement agencies hand-me-down weapons and equipment, from clothing and sleeping bags to computers and digital cameras to guns and armored trucks.

Since its inception, the program has transferred more than $5 billion worth of defense equipment and supplies to more than 8,000 local law enforcement agencies, according to the DLA’s Disposition Services website.

The trend picked up dramatically after terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The value of transfers increased more than tenfold within the past decade, from 34,708 transfers worth $33 million in 2006 to 51,779 transfers worth $420 million last year, according to an article by Niraj Chokshi of The Washington Post.

During the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military spent almost $50 billion buying a fleet of 20,000 blast-resistant trucks, known as Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, to protect troops from deadly roadside bombs. Now, hundreds of the hulking vehicles belong to local police departments.

The program’s website includes among the inventory available for transfer such guns as the M-16A2 assault rifle, M-14 rifle and M-1911 .45-caliber pistol, such vehicles as the iconic Humvee utility vehicle and MRAP, and even aircraft and boats.

In an e-mail to Military.com, Michelle McCaskill, a spokeswoman for the defense agency, said weapons account for only 5 percent of the transfers and tactical vehicles even less, less than 1 percent. She also noted how the congressionally mandated program was designed to aid communities requesting help with counter-drug and counter-terrorism activities.

The Ferguson police department does participate in the program, McCaskill said, but to date it has only received a trailer, a generator and two non-armored Humvees.

Even so, the sight of the police department’s Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT, team members donning assault rifles and camouflage on an urban street in Missouri has drawn backlash from the community and civil-rights activists.

Kara Dansky, a senior counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Center for Justice and author of the report, “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing,” said her research shows that the vast majority of paramilitary police raids are for serving search warrants and other “ordinary” law enforcement purposes; just 7 percent were for a hostage situation or other actual emergencies.

“More often than not, these violent raids are conducted to serve warrants in search of drugs, disproportionately affecting people of color, despite the fact that whites and people of color use drugs at roughly the same rates,” she wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times. “And the militarization of policing is dangerous. Paramilitary weapons and equipment escalates the risk of violence and threatens public safety.”

Louis Anemone, a former chief of the New York Police Department, argues that surplus military gear is a good deal for cops and taxpayers. He oversaw the department’s acquisition from the Army of field ambulances, gas masks with filters for chemical and biological toxins, among other equipment.

“Each piece filled a void in the department’s inventory, and saved the taxpayers money,” he wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times. “If technology, equipment, weapons and/or training is available at little or no cost, it would be malfeasance for a city or a department not to seize that opportunity.”

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • Joe

    If I point my loaded weapon at the police it is assault. If they point their loaded weapon at me without probable cause, it is what exactly?

    • cabgx2


    • rtsy

      Officer misconduct.

    • Bennie Brooks

      “Bonus Army”—-US Army/US Police What is the Diff (82 yrs.) and those of you in the Military that Join your local US POLICE FORCE TAKE A LOOK BACK- TODAY THEM TOMORROW YOUR comrades. This is what happens to anyone asking for what is RIGHT NO MATTER HOW THEY ASK PROTECT & SERVE???. Who are you PROTECTING and Who are you SERVING; OFFICER?

  • blight_asdf

    How did Radley Balko not get a mention here?

    This has been going on for a while. These forces are expensive to maintain and train, and thus they have to be used somewhere. SWAT deployment is stepping up, and now they are being tasked with crowd control. Dare I ask why they were deployed first to confront rioters instead of to protect property? Putting SWAT guys with guns on your business strip with orders to deter looting is probably less confrontational than sending them head to head with rioters while letting looting happen elsewhere.

  • John Moore

    “e shooting of an unarmed black teen ” Who had just commited a robbery at a local convenience store. Why is that part not included.

    • Dfens

      And physically assaulted one of the store clerks, the other part of the story that doesn’t show up. The thug is typically identified as the “unarmed teen who was shot by a policeman.” And the entitlements go on…

    • Kim

      Yeah wonder why. Maybe because it was not the case, after all?

    • Ben

      So it’s fine for police to gun you down if you take a pack of cigars from a store? I’m not saying that Brown should have gotten away with what he did, but damn. Police are far too prone to excessive force and it’s something that NEEDS to be addressed.

  • Chris

    More questions, fewer answers, and even more assumptions….. Speculation and theories about who did what to whom, and when.

  • Ben

    Police don’t need fancy “smart guns,” armored trucks or loads of military gear. What they NEED is better training and mandatory body cams.

    If that cop in Ferguson was wearing a body cam, we’d all know exactly what happened. Hell, if he was wearing one, this might never have even escalated to a shooting.

  • Nick

    I’m more concerned about the decided lack of information being provided.

    That being said, the response of the citizens of the town definitely deserve armored vechicles, smart weapons, smart munitions. I’ve been in combat zones that were quieter! What idiot destroys their own town?

    Answer: TERRORISTS DO.

    The mother of the teen, immediately after this happened, called for calm. Of course, the good reverend (and his hanger-ons) showed up for the photo opportunity. No call for calm from them.

    As a I started, I’ll wait for the facts. Until then, the people who are acting like terrorists need to go home, sit down, and act like they’re Americans. As to the good reverend, why don’t you and your entourage go to, say, Chicago, and do something about the “black on black” murders? Or maybe go to Detroit and do something about “black on white” crimes?

    Never mind, can’t get your 15 minutes on the evening news. Forget I mentioned it.

  • wtpworrier

    Some COPS think they are like Soldiers, they are not, not even close. For one thing, American cities “ARE NOT COMBAT ZONES”…no matter how much COPS tell themselves that they are, trust me, they are not. Nor are they Soldiers, so why would Local Law Enforcement use Military Vehicles to patrol the streets of America, the Army can’t even do that according to the Constitution. This is why they had such problems in Ferguson MO. this past week, and if the Mayor, and the Police Chief did not see that comming, they should not be in Law Enforcement. Soldiers would have known that would have upset the local populace, because we are trained to know it…COPS are not, either that or they don’t care. If that is the case, they still should NOT be cops. If you are a COP and you want to play Soldier, join the Army.

    • Steve

      I bet at least half already joined the army and have served in combat zones. Are the police running people over with theses military vehicles? What damage are they causing besides to the ozone? They’re not going to walk everywhere I can promise you that.

  • moondawg

    Those “thugs” are American citizens. Somehow the State Troopers are keeping the peace without the military gear and MRAPS. During the late 60s and early 70s I was on the military side of numerous protests much larger than these. We were military and didn’t have all that gear. Shields, face visors and riot batons were enought. Darn well no small arms. They were available but out of sight in vans to the rear..

  • LaZrtx

    Just like the T Martin case facts can be greatly twisted by “news”. Brown was not an unarmed teenager. Brown was a 6’5″ 300lb Bloods gang member with a history of violence and assault and robbery. He had just committed a robbery and assault and was walking down the middle of the street obstructing traffic when the law approached and asked him to exit the street. Brown then proceeded to escalate the situation by confronting the police.

  • autonomousresistance

    The press were targeted. Some were violently arrested. Cops were announcing that all media were to turn their cameras off. Obviously media were targeted. As for militarization “just because of the looks” get real. It “looks” like militarization because the cops are wearing and using military gear. The “thugs” are citizens, including children, youth, and elders.

  • conradswims

    Barry, Do you even care about the lives of young Black males? The crime rate facts do not support your distorted rant. If you care about young Black males do what I did. Hire um and put them to work and teach um a trade like I did. Teach them to put the dope and guns away and stop murdering each other. Get some guts your self. Your post does more to destroy the chance of young Black males. You are wrong and hateful to them.

    • puresaltA1A

      They are human beings period….. they are all Americans period… in no way does this justify the militarization of the police and shitting on the US Constitution nor the abuse that currently the citizens are taking…. yes they have problems because the government has made them dependent upon handouts… should be a lesson to everyone… the real thugs are the ones in the riot gear…

  • rtsy

    The police should be keeping civilians safe, not intimidating them with military hand me downs that they barely have training in.

    These weapons were meant for use against terrorists or drug dealers, not protesting civilians and the media.

    • conradswims

      You are 100% wrong!

    • james kesl

      Any weapon is a tactical weapon when used by police or military. Guns and vehicles designed to keep its occupants safe are solely for use against terrorists. Protesting crowds are frequently turning violent and causing more harm than good. From my research, Ferguson has one of the highest crime rates in the region, you can find the info in the FBI’s violent crimes database. The police in that are knwe what they were dealing with. Additionally, thE deceased was suspected of robbing a store minutes before the shooting and refused to comply with police. You should watch the video of the robbery, he blatantly robs the store and assaults the store owner.

      Your comments are off base and uneducated. I recommend you read more on the issue or remain quiet so as not to show your ignorance.

      • rtsy

        The officer in mention had no knowledge of the robbery at the time of the shooting. Furthermore strong arm robbery isn’t grounds for killing, especially after a suspect has already been shot and given up with his arms raised.

        The use of an MRAP and SWAT teams was uncalled for given the nature of the protesters surrounding the shooting site. Rather than showing an escalated response immediately after the shooting, the police should have engaged the community and been as open as possible.

        Instead the militaristic response further heightened tensions and alienated the very community the police were supposed to be protecting.

        I’m very educated on the issues, I simply see the situation differently than you.

        • Dealer8

          Your aware police are around as the exact solution required for rioters and looters? And these are not ‘protesters’ they are rioters and looters. They are criminals. I’m sure there were a few that were protesters and just got caught near the group when they turned violent but they should have left the area as soon as the rioting started.

        • Tiger

          Not educated. Just Opinionated.

    • Tiger

      Except the protesters have attracted crooks & terrorists to use the cause as cover for crime.


      According to the article,
      The Ferguson police department has only received a trailer, a generator and two non-armored Humvees.
      So, what weapons are you talking about that the Ferguson police department were using that were recieved from the military. No weapons!

      Read more: http://live-defensetech.sites.thewpvalet.com/2014/08/15/ferguson-cops-s…

      • Dfens

        But they have scary black rifles, and bullet proof vests. Oh, I’m so scared!

  • conradswims

    Urban warfare is the best use of COIN when done where we live. The ghettos in America need to be scraped and put all the young black people who want an honest job to work building new housing and learning a trade. Then sell the housing to the people with a job.
    Regulate to dope business and take all the tax free profit out of it. The underground dope business is subverting America.

  • Guest

    I live in the neighbooring county and have worked in ferguson the media doesn’t portray the area as it actually is it is the most violent region in the entire state daily shootings and murders weekly these police know what kind of people where mixed in with the crowd and the steps taken where necessary especially after the riots also you do not hear about the multiple gun shots heard in the nights before this escalated they shot at police helicopters and threw objects at police it was a violent situation that needed to be disarmed rather have tear gas than bodies in the street

  • jrk

    All sides, the police, the media, the protestor and the dead suspect made mistakes. How about we all shut our mouths and let the police do their investigation to figure out what happened. I’m sure our President will become involved for some reason and make things worse as well. Everyone of us who has made a statmeet here is simply wrong because none of us were there. None of us saw what happened, we simply read what others are posting and decide if it is right or wrong. Let’s all shut our pie holespecially and reserve judgement for when the facts are figured out.

  • tres

    The rogue police state is showing its ugly tails in broad day light now. An indication that the average IQ of Americans has sunk to new lows.

  • Kathy

    How about allow our law enforcement to protect our streets with what they’ve been given? If that is military authorized equipment, then so be it. Keep in mind, some of the thugs in the streets have been equipped with illegal guns for years. Isn’t it fair that our police force is adequately armed as well?

  • jd

    Yeah you say “give them what they need to protect our streets” I suggest you Google police violence 8.5million hits in 0.3 seconds.wait till the usual no knock warrant is served on you see if your still keen after they get the address wrong again. Wake up there not there to keep you safe like the way they disarmed “rich white folks” weapons after Katrina. Whatever he done doesn’t give power of judge jury and instant execution to the “fine boys in blue”

  • hibeam

    Ferguson News Response Spotlights Lopsided liberal news leaving out important details of the entire story.

  • Michael Shatto

    The problem is not surplus military equipment.
    The problem is the fundamental shift of thinking
    that has Law Enforcement behaving as if everybody
    who is not Law Enforcement is a terrorist criminal enemy.

    • Concern Citizen

      This I agree with completely. It is sad to say but this is a replay of the civil rights struggle. If there are those who have convinced themselves or had convinced themselves that racial hatred has died in America, need only go to the website Topix and read the comments from these individuals which gives me the impression they have an insatiable hatred for African-Americans.

      • Grey Wolf

        And this is any different from the Democratic Underground that espouses the same thing?

  • Ferguson PD

    Now now commies, these MRAPS are for officer safety for one, you never know what kind of weapons these gangs can get there hands on and for 2, what would you do if you were a SWAT team member or a patrolman coming across some rioters with bricks, rocks, and Molotov cocktails huh? Tell them to stop and wave a baton at them? Hell no, bring out the M4 with rubber rounds I say. Although I do agree with Ben about cops having body cams

    • rtsy

      A competent police force doesn’t shoot unarmed civilians or let situations escalate to the point where a SWAT team would need to be deployed in the first place.

    • Kevin Smithwick

      The MRAPs are horrible for a police role and are a budget strain for most police forces. They have been offered and turned down in my area, citing exactly what I’ve said. Also take note that some of these MRAPs were literally donated and still turned down. As someone from a police family I know that being cop is more about a “show of force”. It’s about maintaining the peace, if you escalate force too quickly you risk losing control. Once the population becomes violate and you no longer have anything to threaten them with you risk losing officers. People seem to forget policing is largely about self-discipline and knowing when to apply force and too what degree.

  • William

    Just to let you guys know. Another guy was identified as the suspect of the robbery.

  • Feed up

    I guess there are no black cops. Barry, you are a racist POS. By the way, George Zimmerman is Hispanic. When it comes to preferential treatment. Hispanics are classified as non white on every form when choosing ethnicity.

  • ken

    Continue the program as the threat level goes varies. Just don’t give them tanks and warthogs.

  • Ankon

    military equipment in the police for me is a NO GO , maintain the difference between the police and the military to preserve civilian rights

  • Dfens

    A black Ferguson resident spoke with News Channel 5 TV in St. Louis.
    He said, “Why were the officers standing back? Why don’t they shoot these looters?”

    The answer is, because it’s black people’s homes being burned and looted. If it were the homes of any other Americans the police would be shooting.

  • Barney Rubble

    OH boy…where to begin…..first off,lets trump the race card…the black minority has been kept down so long it justifies rioting, burglaries, retail thefts, drug possession and sales, and murder. And lets not forget it justifies a black person resisting arrest ans assaulting a officer. Those white people were not justified in being angry when police tazered and pepper sprayed them for a peaceful protest in UC Berkley a while back….And all those white protesters were rudely detained and dealt with during the G 20 summit…but it is ok to be black and trump the ol’ race card…..and lets not forget lawenforcement…heavy handed tactics, officer related shootings on the rise, overly excessive fore in dealing with search warrants and arrests….better look at the way police are trained and equipped in this country rater than trumping the race card.

    • Tiger

      Jumping on the card…….Lets set things straight. 1. Blaming “the man,” is weak & a crutch. Never have stood for it, never will. In 2014, you make your own destiny. 2. We in the Black minority hate crooks as much as anybody.We tend to be the victims of their ill will. Let us not confuse persons engaged in lawful protest of a grievance with folks knocking over a liquor store. Nothing justifies the events of this last week. As for the Berkley punks? Ask & you shall receive. Your peacefulness ends when you tell the cops to f-off anf fail to clear when ordered. So White, Black or Polka Dot I say taze the bros….

      As for for police & use of force? Have a valid complaint? File it. There rarely is a nice way to arrest people. Trying to handle a kid the size of a football Defensive back alone, is not something I’d like to try. How about you?

  • Leo Johnson

    I think that someone has lost their “Marble’s Pon this one .sometimes I wish that our police department had a tracked weapon just to drive it down the street that I liveon just to show these drug dealers that live on our streer that they don’t own the street.The street belongs to the “public”.I don’t believe in using tracked weapons on unarmed croeds of people because then the police is denying the people the right of assemble.and that is against the “First Amendment of the United States Constitution.But I presume that “Stupidy” is well entrenched on both sides of the situation in furgeson Missouri.Stupidity on the side of the “Protesters” for listening to their ”
    agitators” and protesting the way they have been doing and ”

    stupidity” on the way that the Police have reacted to the actions of the Protesters.

  • rat

    Maybe everyone forgot that the police are C I V I L I A N S. It’s supposed to be civilians protecting civilians. The police departments around the nation are not supposed to have the firepower and equipment of the USMC. Now every mayor of every hick town and city is now their own little Pol Pot.

  • Andre


  • orly?

    Some people blame Obama (a black president) for the calling of the National Guard (and just coming up short of Martial Law might I add) on mostly unarmed black protesters and rioters (good luck on that accusation).

  • Huehue

    Hello corporate police-state

  • Jake

    The militarization of domestic police is a complete threat to liberty. Our founding fathers new this - and accordingly standing armies have been barred from domestic law enforcement. The federal government has now armed street cops and changed their mindset from peace officers to soldiers hunting insurgents. God help us all. Look how deluded they are about their “safety mission” when they point loaded M4 Assault rifles at unarmed and peaceful protestors in Ferguson.

  • Jack

    This is partially the result of the extremely rich running this country coupled with law enforcement political organizations with the likes of Police Chiefs and sheriff’s political action committees that have lead to years of self lead intetest. Our forefathers would turn in their graves had they envisioned what law enforcement would became! Even the US Coast Guard as silently slipped through public view with mounting and firing 50 caliber machine guns at unarmed civilians on US waters. They slipped through Congress while avoiding censure for the last 20 years