Iraq vet Rafael Noboa y Rivera recently penned an op-ed that claimed local police in Ferguson, Mo., and other small towns have better weapons and armored vehicles than the U.S. military did in Iraq.
Small towns get this advanced equipment per the U.S. Defense Department's 1033 Program, which was passed in 1995.
After the scaledown of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the U.S. Defense Department has been giving more sophisticated weapons to local police forces.
...The police in Ferguson have better armor and weaponry than my men and I did in the middle of a war. And Ferguson isn’t alone — police departments across the US are armed for war.
The gear and weaponry worn by police officers in Ferguson aren’t just clothing and tools. They’re meant to accomplish certain tasks, and they will elicit certain responses from the people who encounter them.
When my men and I donned our helmets and body armor, and carried our weapons out on patrol, we were at war. Our gear wasn’t just protective, it was meant to be downright unwelcoming. That was the point — it’s combat gear, not a costume you wear to look “tactical.”
Rivera added that U.S. Military discipline trained him and other troops not to give into their fear and fire their weapons in minor situations, but he adds that police don't have that training:
It’s that kind of training and discipline that’s been markedly absent from everything we saw this week in Ferguson. We saw police officers pointing weapons at civilians, firing their “less than lethal” ammunition in wild abandon, and posing ostentatiously on armored vehicles.
...Our rules of engagement (ROE) — the instructions for how to deal with enemy forces, never mind Iraqi civilians — were far more restrictive than what we’re seeing from the police in Ferguson. Primary among them: Treat all civilians and their property with respect and dignity.
...We’ve seen a lot of things from the police response in Ferguson, but respect and dignity for the people living there aren’t among them. That lack of respect for civilians only serves to inflame the situation even more, and to me, at least, is indicative of a lack of discipline and professionalism.
Rivera recalled being in dangerous parts of Iraq, but using far less violence than the Ferguson police:
I look at the police in Ferguson, and all I can do is shake my head. If the primary goal of the police was to win the trust of local citizens in order to calm the roiling waters caused by the murder of Mike Brown, then they have utterly failed in accomplishing that goal.
Politico.com reports that U.S.. Attorney General Eric Holder is now questioning the program, which turns U.S. military equipment against U.S. citizens.
“At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community, I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message," said Holder last week.
However, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R) doesn't want to end the program that puts military weapons in the hands of police, but also criticized police for using those same weapons.
“In some cases, military equipment has a practical use. But there are limitations on the type of equipment, obviously,” Rep. Hunter told Politico.com. “The idea that state and local police departments need tactical vehicles and MRAPs with gun turrets is excessive. Certain resources are designed and manufactured for a military mission—and it should stay that way. I don’t have a problem with the program overall, but I’m not comfortable with the idea that equipment designated for the battlefield could have a community application.”
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) wants to end the U.S. Defense Department's program with his bill the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.