News / USA

Pentagon Program Under Scrutiny Amid Ferguson Crisis

Police advance to clear the crowd, Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 18, 2014
Police advance to clear the crowd, Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 18, 2014
Carla Babb

It's an unusual scene in the United States. Protesters in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, angered by the shooting of an unarmed teen, are confronted by police with armored vehicles and holding assault rifles. Now, a Department of Defense program that gives military equipment to local law enforcement agencies has come under scrutiny.

It's called the Pentagon's Excess Property Program. Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby says the Congressionally-mandated system allows the Defense Department to donate surplus military equipment and weapons to law enforcement agencies that apply for it.

"We don't push equipment on anybody. This is excess equipment the taxpayers have paid for. And it is made available to law enforcement agencies if they want it and if they qualify for it," said Kirby.

You can find request forms online for everything from aircraft to weapons to combat boots. The Pentagon says it has given police in the town of Ferguson and St. Louis County six pistols, 12 rifles, a bomb disposal robot, three helicopters and seven Humvees.  

"These aren't the tools for what Ferguson Police Department and St. Louis County are dealing with," said Jason Fritz,a former Army officer who specializes in international policing operations. 

Fritz says that between the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security, hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of equipment and weapons are available to local police forces. But what's scary, he says, is that they are getting no training for these lethal tools. He calls the program irresponsible.

"It's very dangerous and it goes against all best practices," he said. "We even consider just giving the equipment and a couple weeks training course on how to use it to be the low bar on how to do that. And that's really not even preferential. You need to build it into a training program that really is more holistic than 'here is this piece of equipment and here is exactly how you use it.'  In what contact do you use it? Why and how is it appropriate in your community?"

Pentagon spokesman Kirby says the Department of Defense does not take a position on how local police use their equipment.

"We don't legislate. We don't dictate. We don't mandate any kind of certain use," he said.

Kirby told reporters Tuesday that while all eyes are on the situation in Ferguson, people should not forget that several law enforcement agencies say this program saves lives and protects civilians.

"I want to make sure that it's clear that this isn't some program run amok here, or that there isn't proper accountability. There is," he said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is studying the congressionally-mandated program. But, as of now, he has not ordered an official review.

A spokesman for Congressman William "Lacy" Clay, who represents St. Louis County, says the lawmaker will meet with Hagel to discuss concerns about using military equipment without proper training.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs