- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 17, 2014

Police forces are not only turning to military-style equipment to take on law enforcement tasks, but sometimes aren’t even trained properly in how to use the weapons of war, the congressman who represents the St. Louis suburb that has been ensnared in a week of violence said Sunday.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are increasingly having second thoughts about federal programs that give police access to the kind of weaponry that authorities trained on civilians in Ferguson, Missouri, last week in the early days of protests over the killing of a black man by a white police officer.

“Policing is something where you are involved with the community if it’s succeeding. And in those situations where folks are rolling up heavily armored and they’re pointing guns at folks, that’s impossible to have a dialogue,” Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, told ABC’s “This Week” program. “There are times when force is necessary, but we really felt that that push at that time was a little aggressive, obviously, and those images were not what we were trying to get to.”

Top members of Congress have vowed to take a look at the Defense Department program that sends surplus M-16A2 rifles and 40,000-pound vehicles armored to withstand mine blasts to police departments across the country.

Rep. William Lacy Clay, the Missouri Democrat whose district includes Ferguson, said the federal government doesn’t do enough to make sure police know how to use what they are given.

“I have gotten word that some of these police departments who have received this equipment have not been properly trained in its use by the military,” Mr. Clay told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

SEE ALSO: Missouri Gov. Nixon: I was ‘thunderstruck’ by military-like response in Ferguson

Former New York Police Chief Bernard Kerik agreed, saying many departments that accept the equipment “don’t know what they’re getting.”

It has been more than a week since 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.

State officials and the U.S. Department of Justice are investigating the shooting, and more than 40 FBI agents are in Ferguson interviewing witnesses, some of whom say Mr. Brown had his hands up and was surrendering to authorities when he was shot. Some in the community have called for the officer to be charged with murder.

The Justice Department said Sunday that it will conduct its own autopsy on Mr. Brown’s body, suggesting a lack of faith in the state’s autopsy. Administration officials say President Obama has been receiving regular updates on the case while on vacation in Massachusetts.

Mr. Nixon has imposed a nighttime curfew on Ferguson, but that didn’t stop flare-ups Saturday night and early Sunday morning. Police fired smoke grenades into a crowd that was defying the curfew, and local reports said one person was badly injured in a shooting.

Police said they are trying to show more restraint after coming under heavy criticism for the use of military-style force in the streets and efforts to frame Mr. Brown as a villain. Police over the weekend released video footage suggesting that Mr. Brown robbed a convenience store just before he was confronted and shot by police.

An overflow crowd packed the Greater Grace Church in Ferguson on Sunday for a memorial service that included Mr. Brown’s parents, according to local news accounts. The Rev. Al Sharpton told the gathering that “the issue is how a young man was shot multiple times. We want to know where justice is.”

The civil rights activist and MSNBC host said he was planning a march in Washington to deal with the issue of policing standards.

Some lawmakers have defended police access to military equipment, saying departments have found themselves outgunned in some instances and needed more firepower.

“Every instance should be, I think, gone through very closely and tried to make sure that the equipment that they have is used in the right circumstance. There are circumstances where police officers have been outgunned in the past, which got us to these SWAT teams, these tactical teams with heavier weapons because they were outgunned,” Rep. Mike Rogers said during an interview on “Face the Nation.” The Michigan Republican is chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and a former FBI agent.

The Defense Department said it has sent $5.1 billion in equipment to state and local police since what is known as the Section 1033 transfer program began in the 1990s, including $449 million last year alone.

Only 5 percent of the equipment transferred are weapons, and less than 1 percent are tactical vehicles, the Defense Department said.

The transfer is a loan, and police pay shipping costs. Police are responsible for upkeep and training of personnel on use of the equipment.

Another option is the 1122 program, which allows state and local police to buy military-style equipment at federal rates, taking advantage of the government’s bulk discount. Those supplies include amphibious vehicles, night-vision goggles and body armor.

The programs grew out of the 1990s battle with drug cartels, which often outgunned police. But the military equipment also has been used for disaster response and serving warrants.

Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, vowed to take a new look at the military transfer program before the annual defense policy bill comes to the chamber floor this year.

“We intended this equipment to keep police officers and their communities safe from heavily armed drug gangs and terrorist incidents,” Mr. Levin said Friday.

Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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