How Much is Too Much?

When the 1990 National Defense Authorization Act allowed the Dept. of Defense to transfer their excess property to local law enforcement, local police departments saw an opportunity to supplement their budgets, gearing up for worst-case scenarios like school shootings, or terrorist attacks.

But this week’s events in Ferguson MO have shown how a well-intentioned regulation can have unintended consequences.

Since 2006, local police departments have received over 400 MRAP vehicles and over 90,000 machine guns.  But according to the House Armed Services Committee, the majority of the transfers are things like radios, uniforms and office supplies.  Weapons account for only 5% of the transfers, and tactical vehicles make up only 0.35%.

It’s a difficult balancing act.  How many howls of protest would there be if lack of equipment prevented your local police department from keeping your town safe?  But how much do we lose when we see SWAT teams with military-style weapons trained on civilians?

A recent article in the New York Times highlighted the issue.

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