Congress to Look Closer at Police Militarization After Ferguson

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Boise Police Department's mine resistant ambush protected vehicle. - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Boise Police Department's mine resistant ambush protected vehicle.

The U.S. Senate is taking police militarization more seriously in the wake of events in Ferguson, Mo.—

National Public Radio reports the Senate is looking ahead to its first congressional hearing in which those events will be discussed in connection with tightening Washington's grip on what military hardware goes to which police departments.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) will lead a hearing of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and has called on Ferguson's police force to demilitarize. In the wake of the August shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 19-year-old African-American man suspected of shoplifting, police squared off against protesters with tear gas, armored personnel carriers, rubber bullets, heavy body armor and semi-automatic weapons.

McCaskill also questions the Pentagon, the Justice Department, Homeland Security and the Department of Defense—agencies with programs that funnel military materiel to law enforcement agencies across the country. She would also like to see more oversight of how the items are used and said police should wear body cameras to ensure accountability. The 1033 Program pairs police with MRAPs, helicopters, semi-automatic rifles, pistols, body armor, grenade launchers and other gear. The ACLU has chimed in to say the Department of Defense needs to keep better tabs on the materiel distributed through the 1033 Program, which was designed to assist in the wars on drugs and terror, 

"We think Congress could require the Defense Department to do much more extensive reporting on the transfers of weapons through the 1033 Program and, even more importantly, on the use of the weapons that are transferred through the 1033 Program," the ACLU's Kara Dansky told NPR.

In the Sept. 10 edition of Boise Weekly, we wrote about some of the military hardware now in the hands of local law enforcement and the different philosophies governing its deployment across the Treasure Valley.