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Editorial: Militarization of police must be monitored

For more than a week, unrest and outrage over the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager has gripped Ferguson, Mo. The issues raised by this confluence of race and police power are complex and numerous. But one particular issue can and should be addressed, particularly in New Hampshire. And that’s the growing militarization of local police forces.

Our state’s leaders must push for an accounting: What police departments have military hardware and for what purpose?

In the first few days after Michael Brown’s killing on Aug. 9, the most vivid images were those of police officers dressed like combat troops. They pointed high-powered weapons at protesters. They rode in armored personnel vehicles and helicopters. They used tear gas and rubber bullets.

This grossly disproportionate response was counterproductive. Rather than calm the streets of the St. Louis suburb, the police response instead brought out more protesters. Eventually, the local police were put under the command of the state highway patrol. Attorney General Eric Holder traveled there last week to promise a full federal investigation.

What the Ferguson police didn’t realize was that the deployment of such military grade equipment – easy for local departments to access as two major U.S. wars wind down – would serve as a perfect example of the blatant injustice claimed by residents. While the racial inequities that roil Ferguson are largely absent in a state like New Hampshire, which is more than 94 percent white, we can’t ignore the problems caused by arming the police like armies.

The federal government bears much of the blame. Its 1033 program, according to Politifact.com, “allows local law enforcement agencies to acquire surplus military equipment, at nearly no cost (they have to pay for transporting the equipment). . . . More than 8,000 agencies participate in the 1033 program, which has given out more than $5 billion in property since it started.”

On a national level, this program must be re-examined. Locally, we need to know what police departments have been requesting equipment and how they are planning to use it.

In limited cases, such as the BearCat armored vehicle procured by the Concord police and shared with other area law enforcement agencies, the hardware is defensible. The police can face significant, unknown dangers and may require this level of protection. In most other situations, though, the war materiel seen in the streets of Ferguson would seem out of place in New Hampshire.

That’s why Gov. Maggie Hassan should take the lead in asking police departments throughout the state to publicly report what kinds of military hardware they’ve obtained from the U.S. armed forces. They should also state what threats the equipment is supposed to address.(And no, Keene Police Department, that does not include protecting your Pumpkin Festival from terrorist attack.)

Legislative action may be necessary if departments refuse to share this information, but we trust that most law enforcement officials want to build trust with the public. As the data becomes available, the state could collect it in an easy-to-access, easy-to-understand format.

At that point, the residents of New Hampshire should have the opportunity to openly debate whether the forces sworn to protect us should be using such tools. In a state where individual liberty is prized so highly, the discussion should be a spirited one.

Legacy Comments8

This kind of editorial subtly supports the brutalization in Ferguson and must be chastised. This is not the time to begin to wonder and start to compile data - this is the time to act to demilitarize the Police in America, including New Hampshire (search YouTube for 'call the cops rob hustle' to get a glimpse inside the Seabrook PD). This has been going on nationally since 1972 and now it's 2014 and the slope of the trend is undeniable. Because the problem is steadily increasing, not staying flat, anything less than a call for action against this tragedy is support for more of it.

No, the Bearcats are NOT defensible. For the same money as one Bearcat, ten pick-up trucks loaded for real rescue operations, that won't sink in mud, that won't tear up the streets. The Bearcat and other military vehicals are wanted because they're big expensive toys that the bureaucrats want to play with. Play with, at taxpayer expense.

Where is the liberal outrage about the Bearcat? How is that "defensible"? Oh I forgot, those dangerous Free State and Tea Party folks are out there and ready to cause trouble daily. Has the Concord Hospital received their Bearcat yet???

There is all kinds of 1033 program equipment that is justifiable and can be talked about with a straight face, such as office furnishings, hardware, fire fighting and construction equipment. All this equipment which can only be used to fight a war should be scrapped. Not only that, but grants to purchase new military type equipment should end. BTW, EPA was trying to prevent fire departments from being able to access old military trucks for forest fire prevention, because they don't have the latest smog crap on them; What BS, for something that only is used a couple times a year.

For starters, In NH, no local police department needs a Lenco Bearcat or MRAP. Reading the City of Concord's application for the grant paying for their Bearcat, it's either one big lie or an exercise in paranoia. Can anyone remember the last time there was a riot in Concord? Why do local police departments need a grenade launcher? I can't think of a valid reason. We need citizen oversight of our police, starting at training. Currently, police recruits are trained in an "Us v. Them" mentality. This needs to stop. In an effort to protect ourselves, we have created a de facto military force. Think I'm kidding? Just look at the police in Ferguson or the police in Massachusetts during the Boston Marathon bombing. The only difference between these forces and the Marines stationed in Iraq is that the Marines were in camouflage.

all that free stuff and Concord bought their massively armored vehicle - good going democrats - another brilliant decision from the democrats that cant even take care of the massive amount of weeds sprouting feet in the air at medians and curbs - an old mill town look if I have ever seen one

"What the Ferguson police didn’t realize was that the deployment of such military grade equipment – easy for local departments to access as two major U.S. wars wind down – would serve as a perfect example of the blatant injustice claimed by residents.".....I get the larger point this editorial is making, but you could have better made your point had you listed the equipment the Ferguson police owns. Its my understanding it was county/state equipment that we saw, not local. So if locals call in the county/state equipment, what does NH county/state police have for equipment??? Give us some more facts and less blah blah blah..

This is a perfect example of what is wrong with journalism today. When the free state people were attending Keene city council meetings to protest the acquisition of of the BEARCAT, the local press could have cared less. It is only after a gross misuse of this type of equipment, AND followed by John Oliver's brilliant skewering of the Keene Police that any press in NH even cares about this type of government intimidation and waste. If the press did their job, a lot of government waste and overreach would be prevented in the first place.

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