W. Mich. law enforcement discusses use of surplus military gear in wake of Trump order
BARRY COUNTY, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - President Donald Trump has signed an executive order making it easier for local police to obtain surplus military gear.
The move does away with restrictions implemented under the Obama administration after violence between protestors and police in Ferguson, Missouri three years ago.
Newschannel 3 has been looking into what West Michigan police departments do with military gear.
Under President Obama's restrictions, local police had to give back military weapons, like grenade launchers.
But departments here in West Michigan were able to keep armored vehicles.
Whether police should have them is cause for heated debate.
To Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf, getting free surplus military gear is not just useful but practical.
"What are they going to do with them otherwise, put them out in some dessert area and let them rot?" he said.
Even under the Obama administration's restrictions, his department kept a humvee and a heavily armored vehicle known as an M-RAP.
He says both vehicles are rarely used, and remain on standby for unpredictable situations.
"If there's a tornado ripping through a neighborhood, there's nails and all kinds of stuff that will flatten your tires on ambulances and fire trucks. But these here, we can take people out and get them in and out of anywhere," Leaf said.
But some think local police should not have access to this gear.
The American Civil Liberties Union says there are more effective ways to serve a community as tensions with police remain high nationwide.
Republican Senator Rand Paul, of Kentucky, called the plan a dangerous expansion of government power.
"None of the equipment or the vehicles are offensive weapons. There's no weapons on the vehicles," said Calhoun County Sheriff Matt Saxton.
Saxton says his department has an M-RAP and several humvees. He says they often sit idle and wouldn't be used in the community unless a disaster struck.
"Our M-RAP to me is like a smoke detector; you never know when you're going to need it until you need it," he said.
Every year, local police are required to report what military equipment they have and what they use it for.
In addition to weapons and vehicles, police also get things like first aid gear, uniforms, and kitchen utensils through this federal program.