The tragic shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri has raised many questions about how law enforcement treats the very citizens it is supposed to protect, including whether local law enforcement should be armed to the teeth with military grade equipment. Could a military response happen here in Florida? It’s impossible to know right now, and we need to change that.
In June, the ACLU released a national report on the militarization of local law enforcement, which documented the federal to local pipeline of war machines and weapons. There are several programs that enable even the smallest towns to obtain massive reserves of weapons.
For example, the Department of Defense distributes its surplus weapons free of charge. For only the cost of shipping, and a promise to use the materials within the first year, any law enforcement agency can obtain the weapons of war. The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security send cash for law enforcement to purchase these tools on the open market.
The military equipment comes no-strings-attached too. There is no limitation on their use – and while some of these federal programs have a veneer of antiterrorism to, the fine print is clear that cops can use the grenade launchers and tanks in every day law enforcement.
To be clear, there are a very small number of instances where serious weapons could theoretically be used by SWAT teams, such as hostage, barricade, or active shooter scenarios. But the ACLU found that nationally only seven percent of deployments were used in this type of case. Overwhelmingly, the equipment is used to effect searches, and mostly in drug cases. Most of the targets are people of color.
All of this happens with no methodical or public oversight, which brings us to Florida. Like almost all other states, there is no unified system of tracking what our law enforcement agencies possess or how it is used. The Miami New Times reported today that 12 south Florida jurisdictions have obtained weapons and equipment from the Department of Defense. Florida International University has 50 assault rifles and a mine resistant vehicle; Miami Gardens has 100 machine guns, a mine resistant vehicle, a bomb detecting robot and four grenade launchers. Of course, these numbers reflect only a single equipment source. The real totals could be much higher if we knew all of the toys stockpiled in their stations. Looking at just Brevard County, Florida Today found around 1,100 military items.
This militarization of local police has to stop. First, the federal government must stop funding and directly supplying our locals with the weapons of war. They are unnecessary for law enforcement and can escalate otherwise manageable situations. Even though Democrats and Republicans have criticized the program, passing federal legislation is difficult these days. That’s why secondly, our state government needs to investigate and control the proliferation on these weapons here in our own state. Both the Scott administration and the returning legislature need to mandate public reporting on what these agencies have and how it is used. Ultimately, there should be very strict limitations on how these weapons should be used in Florida, if ever.