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Md. police receive millions in military gear

Law EnforcementShootingsU.S. Department of DefenseU.S. CongressU.S. Military

Local police departments in Maryland have received more than $12 million in excess equipment from the U.S. military — from a $400,000 "mine-resistant vehicle" to a set of a dozen spoons valued at $3.06 apiece — through a federal program that has come under bipartisan scrutiny.

In all, local law enforcement agencies in the state have received more than 2,000 assault rifles, 873 semi-automatic handguns and 220 12-gauge shotguns from the Department of Defense Excess Property Program since 2006, according to Pentagon data made public Friday.

Unused military equipment has flowed freely to police for years, but the practice received renewed attention last week after officers were seen in Ferguson, Mo., wearing camouflage and driving armored vehicles. Police and residents in Ferguson have clashed after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, on Aug. 9.

The images prompted calls from Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill to review the program.

"Congress established this program out of real concern that local law enforcement agencies were literally outgunned by drug criminals," said Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We will review this program to determine if equipment provided by the Defense Department is being used as intended."

Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, decried the "militarization of our law enforcement" in an article for Time magazine.

The data show Maryland police departments received nearly 4,000 military-grade items under the program, though it's not clear how much of that equipment has been retained. Montgomery County received more than any other jurisdiction in the state in terms of dollar value, roughly $4.6 million. Baltimore City received about $553,000 worth of weapons and gear.

A spokesman for Baltimore police did not respond to a request for comment.

The type of equipment varies widely. Queen Anne's County secured the mine-resistant vehicle last year. A similar vehicle in Wicomico County could be used during a mass shooting or a barricade situation, Sheriff Mike Lewis told the Daily Times. An explanation of the program from the Pentagon says it was "prudent to allow law enforcement agencies to use [the vehicles] versus scrapping them or allowing them to sit in storage."

Three jurisdictions — Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Somerset counties — received night vision equipment, including sniper scopes in Montgomery County. Office equipment, sleeping bags, computers and other items were also sent to local police.

A set of spoons, forks and knives wound up in Carroll County, according to the data.

The program, which provides the equipment to local agencies for free, was created by Congress in the early 1990s. All requests for the items are screened by Maryland State Police, according to the Department of Defense.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jfritze

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Law EnforcementShootingsU.S. Department of DefenseU.S. CongressU.S. Military
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