This week's feature story has been a long time coming. Last October, we ran across a fascinating piece in the New York Times exploring the glut of United States military equipment making its way into the hands of local police departments, and how that materiel was affecting the ways civilians interact with law enforcement. Not long after, a small town newspaper in New Hampshire lifted the lid on its own police department's acquisition of heavy equipment, such as an armored BearCat, and found through documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union that local law enforcement told the Department of Homeland Security it needed the vehicle to defend against "groups such as the Sovereign Citizens, Free Staters and Occupy New Hampshire," calling them "active and present daily challenges."
That got us wondering why Treasure Valley law enforcement agencies felt they needed equipment like the mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) personnel carrier and South African-built REVA armored vehicles.
A few months ago Boise Weekly filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking application materials and communications between local law enforcement and the federal government, angling to receive free military surplus hardware through the Department of Defense's 1033 Program.
While waiting for the piles of documents to show up, events in Ferguson, Mo., propelled the issue of police militarization into international news, as that community went head-to-head with its heavily armed and armored police force over the shooting death of a 19-year-old suspected shoplifter.
The images couldn't have been more striking: Machine gun-toting officers dressed in full body armor, riding atop boxy armor-plated vehicles that seemed more familiar from coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan than Main Street, U.S.A.
The documents requested by BW showed up in staff writer Harrison Berry's inbox in late August. What we found was not so hair-raising as that New Hampshire police department's feeling that terrorists wait behind every corner, but perhaps more interesting was finding the differing philosophies between local agencies about how--and when--to use military-grade equipment.
His report appears on Page 10 of this week's paper.
Another long-simmering story is starting to come to a climax this week, with the Sept. 8 hearing to overturn Idaho's same-sex marriage at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. See Berry's report on the proceedings on Page 7.