Ferguson Unrest Sparks Debate Over Police Equipment

By Nick Thompson | nthompson@kolr10.com

Published 08/18 2014 06:26PM

Updated 08/18 2014 07:00PM

CHRISTIAN COUNTY, Mo. – The Pentagon has a surplus of used military equipment, like armored vehicles, left over from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Almost every evening since Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, images have surfaced of police in riot gear, riding in armored vehicles and holding assault rifles.

The images have sparked a national debate over whether local law enforcement agencies are too militarized.

Both the Nixa Police Department and the Christian County Sheriff's Office own some former military equipment. Both agencies received hand-me-down Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles or “MRAP’s” from the Pentagon recently. Christian County received its MRAP free of charge.

Christian County Resident John Dollarhite said he is passionate about fighting government overreach and said local law enforcement agencies in the Ozarks should not have access to former military equipment.

"The whole idea is that you want the biggest baddest thing that you can come up with,” Dollarhite said. “It's a thrill. The thrill seekers and these police departments are no different. They like to have the fully automatic guns, they like to have the fast equipment and they like to have the big bad bulletproof because they want to feel important."

Christian County Sheriff Joey Kyle said his department can use the MRAP to help deputies or innocent people venture in and out of a situation where there is an active shooter.

Equipping of civilian law enforcement in the United States is not being militarized,” Kyle said. “What they're doing is acquiring equipment that ordinarily they wouldn't have the money to do so in case that type of capability is needed."

Kyle said heavy equipment keeps officers from using lethal force because when an officer has more protection, he or she has the security of knowing they have more time to evaluate someone’s intent.

"The equipment is not what militarizes anything or any agency,” Kyle said. “It's the mindset. It's how do we react to these situations.  You can be militarized without having any kind of armament. Or you can be completely armed up and respond appropriately."

Kyle said from what he’s seen in Ferguson, officers are simply reacting to the challenges rioters are posing. He said actions like looting are violations of the law and officers must do something about it.

Dollarhite said the military is being used against the people and he has tried to put a stop to it.

Dollarhite and his wife organized a public hearing in May to express concern over the acquisition of armored vehicles in Christian County.

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