The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, coupled with the pictures of heavily armed law enforcement officers underscores the increasingly militarization of police departments across the country.
Radley Balko, the author of Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of Americas Police Forces, said, Theres a feeling that you have to justify having it so you have to find reasons to use it, even if those reasons arent really commensurate with the threat that the police are actually facing.
Among the equipment used by the Portland Police Bureau are two armored vehicles, SWAT gear and camouflage. PPB Sgt. Pete Simpson told KOIN 6 News they have the gear they need.
Unfortunately thats the reality, he said. Its gear we need to have in reserve and ready because the moment we need it and dont have it we have a problem.
The bureaus Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) has two armored vehicles that were purchased brand new and were custom built for us by companies that do that, Simpson said. That is 100% for the protection of the team that are in the vehicles and for the protection of the community.
The 1033 Program
A little known program, 1033, allows police forces to take in surplus military equipment.
The Oregon State Police said they had nearly 200 rifles and guns 63 M16s, 21 M14s, 115 AR15s they got from the program, but returned in March.
They were returned because they were aging and no longer met our operational needs or were not functional, OSP Lt. Gregg Hastings said in an email.
But they still have two V-150 armored vehicles.
Washington County said they received a few rifles in 2006.
Clackamas County provided a list. They have 14 rifles, an armored truck, a mine resistant vehicle, several night fusion units, medical equipment and a welder.
No one from Clackamas County was available to answer KOIN 6 News questions about the program or equipment. But a spokesperson did say the equipment they use is in the course of civilian law enforcement roles. They are not, the spokesperson said, trying to build a military or change how they operate.
The Multnomah County Sheriffs Office said they currently do not have anything from the 1033 program.
Neither does the PPB. They buy and maintain all their own equipment.
Bottom line, Simpson said, most of the equipment we have is for protection of the officers and protection of the community. Certainly we hope we never need things like patrol rifles and things like armored cars.