Congress considers review of police military gear - KCTV5

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Congress considers review of police military gear

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WASHINGTON (AP) -

Lawmakers said Tuesday they were considering doing more to monitor and hold accountable police departments across the United States that obtain sophisticated military equipment from the federal government.

The new scrutiny on Capitol Hill was prompted by weeks of violent conflicts between police in Ferguson, MO, and protesters upset about the fatal police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old.

Tuesday at a Senate hearing, Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill questioned the idea of military equipment used by police. McCaskill wanted the hearings after what she said she saw in Ferguson. She said she saw police who were more like the military and armed, in large part, by the federal government.

"Officers dressed in military fatigues will not be viewed as partners in any community. Armored military vehicles, even if they are painted black and used with the utmost discretion, are, by definition, intimidating," she said.

McCaskill made it clear she supports police, but there are exceptions.

"But we also have to acknowledge that giving military-grade vehicles and weapons to every police officer and police force in America comes with costs. Both in the way officers are perceived and the way this equipment is used," she said.

She lay the blame at Washington DC's feet, namely the Homeland Security Department and United States Department of Justice programs that fund and equip local law enforcement.

"(They) don't track the purchases or keep adequate data, so we just can't know from asking these agencies how much military equipment or anything else that local law enforcement agencies are actually buying," McCaskill said.

Most military equipment, including some rifles and armored vehicles, is provided to local police under a program administered by the Homeland Security Department.

"These programs were established with a very good intention: to provide equipment that would help law enforcement perform their duties," said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. "The question is whether what our police receive matches what they truly need to uphold the law."

"We're a paramilitary organization so, of course we're going to be militarized," said Kansas City, MO, Police Chief Darryl Forté. "It's important that we have military equipment, especially with the tight budget time. It's important that we be able to continue to get those pieces of equipment."

He said that is especially important when it comes to potentially life or death situations.

"If someone was barricaded in a residence and some of the vehicles we use now are military equipment, we ram the door with some of that equipment versus putting five officers at risk," Forté said.

McCaskill said her next step is to push federal officials to work with Congress on policy changes to strengthen transparency and accountability throughout federal programs.

The White House had previously announced its own review of the police equipment program.

Copyright 2014 KCTV (Meredith Corp.)  All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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