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Law Enforcement Discuss 'Militarization'

JOHNSON/LINN COUNTY (CBS 2/FOX 28) -- In the wake of the chaotic situation in Ferguson, Missouri, many are questioning law enforcement tactics around the country.

Much of the military surplus gear provided to local police departments is made possible through the 1033 program - which was put into place by congress back in the 90's.

The goal was to provide police with the tools they say were needed in the fight against drugs - at no cost to the department. Many are saying that policy needs a second look.

Some of Eastern Iowa's top cops say despite the criticism you're seeing in Ferguson, the 1033 program overall is a necessary one.

“We're getting stuff that are needed tools,” says Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek.

“We don't have to spend taxpayer money to purchase these things if the military is willing to give it to us for free,” says Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner.

Numbers provided by Johnson County show 161 items through the 1033 program since 1995 - including chemical protection suits, and typewriters.

An inventory list we acquired from Linn County shows 64 rifles, which they are set to give back, in addition to other items, including helmets, face shields, and binoculars.

The most controversial item between the two departments is Johnson County's MRAP - the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle.

“Not only is it armored, but it has a lot of other capabilities because of its high clearance,” Pulkrabek says.

He says it be used in deadly shooter situations, or even during flooding, as seen earlier this year. Pulkrabek says the MRAP has no weapons - unlike the vehicles seen in Ferguson.

“All the vehicles I've been seeing in the St. Louis situation have all been bearcats...commercial vehicles,” he says.

Here in     Iowa, there are some concerns with 1033. Keith Post deals with military surplus on a much smaller scale, as the owner of Uncle Stan’s Military Surplus. He says departments need to be careful.

“As long it doesn't get out of hand, and you don't see these things driving through town every day,” Post says. “Then it's going to get scary.”

The American Civil Liberties Union says they're concerned those images from Ferguson reflect what could be without regulation and accountability.

“The police have a mission to protect and serve, not to wage wars on communities,” says Veronica Fowler, a spokesperson with ACLU of Iowa.

Fowler says ACLU did a study of paramilitary policing in the US between 2011 and 2012. That study shows people of color are more impacted by that type of policing than white people.

“Safeguards have to be in place so that military weapons, when sent to police, are not used in ways that put people in harm’s way,” she says.

Police say they're not trying to intimidate or fight communities - instead they're fighting crime.

“As the bad guys become better equipped, law enforcement needs to be ahead to the game, not behind them,” Gardner says.

Just two months ago, the house voted down a bill that would end the 1033 program. Many lawmakers are saying Congress needs to revisit the idea.

The program has provided $4.3 billion dollars in gear to departments around the country. The MRAP in Johnson County is worth more than $700,000.
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