If you haven’t been following the often violent clashes between protesters and local police in Ferguson, Mo., you may not be aware that those local police agencies have consistently used equipment acquired from the military to do “crowd control.” And it hasn’t turned out well.
After a violent weekend, the Missouri National Guard arrived in Ferguson yesterday to help keep the peace. But police reportedly still brought out their armored vehicles, tactical gear, and grenade launchers, which they used to fire tear gas into the crowds. Police also reportedly shot wax bullets at protesters. Police told reporters in a press conference that much of the violence last night was due to a small minority of protesters who launched some Molotov cocktails at police.
This all comes after several reports of more intense police violence against protesters, including the use of tear gas and rubber or wooden pellets, and the arrest of reporters who were doing their jobs (including Getty Images photographer Scott Olson, arrested yesterday).
Think this could never happen in Knoxville? Hopefully it won’t, but if it ever does, be aware: Police agencies in Knox County have a mine-resistant vehicle, 299 assault rifles, and two helicopters, according to data collected by the New York Times.
Knoxville Police Department Public Information Officer Darrell DeBusk said KPD does not own the mine-resistant vehicle, but has acquired an armored Humvee, two off-road motorcycles, and storage containers through the 1033 program authorized by Congress in 1996 that allows surplus military equipment to be given to local law enforcement agencies.
DeBusk said the motorcycles are the department’s most recent acquisition, and will be used in cases such as “searching for lost kids in the woods or missing elderly people who may have gone missing.” The Humvee, DeBusk said, is available to move officers in and around areas where a suspect might be holding people hostage, but also offers a “safe mode of transportation” on days when there’s lots of snow or other “weather disasters.”
DeBusk hasn’t gotten back to us about how often hostage situations arise in Knoxville.
The Knox County Sheriff’s Office also has six Humvees, according to the News-Sentinel. The agency also owns the helicopters identified by the New York Times.
It’s still unclear who owns the mine-resistant vehicle, but we’ll update this post when we find out.
Residents of surrounding counties should be aware that their local police agencies also have military equipment at the ready.
Blount County has 23 assault rifles and a grenade launcher (for shooting tear gas), Sevier County has 219 night vision pieces and 16 assault rifles, Jefferson County has 14 assault rifles, nine night vision pieces, and seven body armor pieces, Grainger County has 24 assault rifles, Union County has eight assault rifles, Anderson County has 35 body armor pieces, 18 assault rifles, and six night vision pieces, Roane County has 33 body armor pieces, 30 assault rifles, two night vision pieces, and an armored vehicle, and Loudon County has 14 assault rifles and five shotguns.
All of this equipment was acquired through the 1033 program, which requires the receiving agencies to use the equipment within a year.