Militarization of nearby police forces dangerous to community

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Leander Police Department and Cedar Park Police Department recently joined the over 13,000 American communities benefitting from the Department of Defense’s 1033 Military Surplus Property Program, which redistributes surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies. Although most communities only receive basic equipment, both the acquisition of military vehicles and the lack of policies governing their use are dangerous.

Redistributing surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies is a good idea. CPPD has been able to take advantage, free of charge, of trauma kits and first-aid supplies that the military could no longer use. Both departments will also be able to use the two former-military Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, that they acquired through the 1033 Program to resolve threatening situations with less risk to their officers and citizens. According to Lieutenant Chanse Thomas of Cedar Park, the vehicle would only be used to safely deliver personnel to emergency settings, such as an incident in Cedar Park involving an active shooter approximately 18 months ago. Lieutenant Derral Partin of Leander said rescue would be the primary purpose of the two armored vehicles under LPD’s jurisdiction, calling it a safer solution to natural disasters such as the 2007 floods in Leander. Although neither agency has any reason to anticipate the need for such vehicles, both officers said it is the responsibility of law enforcement agencies to have equipment in the event of a threatening situation.

The danger of outsourcing military vehicles is the lack of standard procedures for their use. While most of the agencies benefitting from the 1033 Program only receive basic equipment, such as self-aid trauma kits, rifle optics and binoculars, others receive so-called “special equipment,” such as weaponry, armored vehicles and aircrafts. The problem with the assignment of “special equipment” is that there are no governing protocols for their use from the U.S. Army, the federal government or the agencies now in possession of them.

Both CPPD and LPD said they would consider using the vehicles on a “case-by-case basis” but could not provide concrete policies. Additionally, CPPD and LPD differed on what they saw as the proper chain of command regarding the use of the vehicles: LPD said that Leander’s Chief of Police was the only person able to implement the vehicles, while CPPD said that the decision would fall to the seven commanding officers of its department. Finally, because MRAPs contain openings at the top, the machines may be used for offensive or defensive purposes; although both agencies only plan to use for the latter, there is no procedure ruling when the switch from defensive to offensive tactics should be made. In short, the use of these vehicles is completely at the discretion of the respective agencies.

The complete lack of standardized procedures is dangerous for communities. Leander and Cedar Park are not the only police departments in Central Texas that have acquired armored vehicles. If a threatening situation had arisen in the last five months, with no concrete regulations, the results could have been catastrophic. Because both Cedar Park and Leander state that if the circumstances arose, both of their respective agencies would lend the vehicles to a neighboring community in need, the lack of procedures in place are dangerous to all Central Texas communities. The state government is the only body that could create uniform policies, procedures and standard orders for all law enforcement agencies in Texas. In light of recent events in Ferguson, Miss. and the recent militarization of Central Texas police forces, it should be the hope of every citizen in the upcoming elections that candidates aspiring to fill state or municipal offices propose viable solutions to such dangers. 

Smith is a history junior from Austin, Texas. Follow her on Twitter @claireseysmith.