The scenes unfolding in Ferguson, MO this week have drawn the opinions average citizens to President Barack Obama. But now Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is calling for what he considers the 'de-militarization' of police.
In an op-ed feature in Time Magazine's website Thursday afternoon, Se. Paul said, "The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm. It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime. It is quite another for them to subsidize it."
The purchasing of surplus military equipment is nothing new and the Evansville Police Department isn't unique in its acquisition of such equipment. However, assuming the equipment is purchased and utilized within the correct context, it can be used for good, said Sgt. Jason Cullum.
"If you look at the equipment that the EPD has acquired from the military, I think you'd have to stretch to say we've militarized," Sgt. Cullum said. "In addition to the few items that we have picked up, we have turned down a lot of stuff."
The opportunity for police agencies to buy this equipment is the same opportunity afforded to citizen market, Sgt. Cullum said. Plus, it's an efficient use of tax dollars on two fronts.
"We've picked up some Humvees with 5000 or 6000 miles on them. We get them for [little cost]," Sgt. Cullum said. "It doesn't make any sense to bypass that when we have the ability to maintain and store them and use them to help our community."
Whether it be the flash flooding in June 2013 or the series of winter storms this past winter, the Humvees have allowed officers to reach areas they wouldn't otherwise be able to reach in a squad car. The Humvees are still property of the government, meaning EPD cannot sell them, Sgt. Cullum said.
Last summer, EPD acquired a specialized tactical vehicle through grant money. The vehicle, called a Bearcat, is used when an armed individual could potentially put officers in danger. The department used the vehicle during a 2013 standoff in which an Evansville Animal Control officer was nearly shot. When the department bought the vehicle, it wasn't unveiled to the general public until one of those circumstances arose, Sgt. Cullum said.
"We don't flaunt it," Sgt. Cullum said. "When people talk about the militarization of police departments, they're looking what we're doing. They're not looking at our society and the history of America of the last 20 years. It is a different look than what people are used to, especially folks that used to watch Andy Griffith it was more about community policing. We would love for it to still be that way but the reality is it's not."
EPD does have gear suited for riots or other civil unrest, including plexi-glass shields, Sgt. Cullum said. However, at least in recent memory, the department has never had to use them. EPD also does not have rubber bullets, Sgt. Cullum said.