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American arms race heats up at local police level

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Betsi Fores The Daily Caller News Foundation
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Across the country, cities small and large are building up their police forces. In the name of terrorism preparedness, local municipalities are stockpiling arms, tanks, and whatever Army surplus goods they can apply federal grant money to acquire, the Center for Investigative Reporting found.

Fargo, N.D., considered one of America’s happiest cities, is one of the cities leading the charge of this internal American arms race. While most would not consider Fargo a likely terrorist target, local police feel they need to be ready.

“It’s foolish to not be cognizant of the threats out there, whether it’s New York, Los Angeles or Fargo. Our residents have the right to be protected,” Fargo police Lt. Ross Renner told CIR. “We don’t have every-day threats here when it comes to terrorism, but we are asked to be prepared.”

Prepared may be putting it mildly. According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, “in recent years, [Fargo] has bought bomb-detection robots, digital communications equipment and Kevlar helmets, like those used by soldiers in foreign wars. For local siege situations requiring real firepower, police there can use a new $256,643 armored truck, complete with a rotating turret.”

Fargo and its surrounding county have used $8 million in federal grant money — a sizable sum for a remote locale  and a city considered one of the safest in America, averaging less than two homicides per year since 2005.

Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, Fargo, along with other local police forces, have embarked on a defense-gear spending spree with $34 billion in federal grant money. With little oversight from Washington, police forces have broadly transformed, relying on “quasi-military tactics and equipment,” CIR reports.

So what exactly is the total price tag of this arms build-up? It’s hard to say. A FEMA report shows that there is little federal government oversight over what arms equipment is purchased and where it is going. Even local and state governments keep inconsistent records of these purchases, making it especially difficult to know the scale of arms racking.

Large scale spending expands far beyond Fargo.

In Montgomery County, Texas, the sheriff’s department owns a pilotless surveillance drone worth $300,000. A local police agency in Garland County, Ark., acquired four handheld bulletproof protective shields, at $600 a pop. The agency in East Baton Rouge, La., opted for the $400 ballistic helmets.  Augusta, Maine, a city of fewer than 20,000 citizens where an officer hasn’t died from gunfire in more than 125 years, the police agency bought eight $1,5000 tactical vests. Des Moines, Iowa, splurged on two $180,000 bomb robots.

CIR adds: “The city of Ogden, Utah, is about to launch a 54-foot, remote-controlled “crime-fighting blimp” with a powerful surveillance camera affixed to its belly by the end of the year.”

Police maintain that they are simply keeping up with the times and technology needed to protect both themselves and the people they defend. “I don’t see us as militarizing police; I see us as keeping abreast with society,” former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, now chairman of Kroll Inc., the security consulting firm told CIR. “And we are a gun-crazy society.”

Still, data shows that violent crimes are significantly down since the ‘90s as are police deaths by gunfire.

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Betsi Fores