SOUTHWEST FLORIDA - Protests marred by violence in Ferguson, Missouri are causing police to roll out military surplus vehicles and equipment to hold crowds back.
Some groups are now questioning, are these tactics doing more harm than good? Or, is it necessary for police to maintain their own safety?
According to the Defense Logistics Agency last year alone, they transferred nearly $450 million dollars worth of military equipment to police agencies nationwide through the 1033 Program.
Some of that's being used by our local officers but not everyone agrees with the term "militarization." Video shows police in Ferguson responding to a barrage of molotov cocktails and gunfire with military equipment and combat-ready weaponry. "The fact that they're wearing military-style uniforms was very provocative. Had they been wearing police blues I think there would have been a different feeling," said Jeffrey Ian Ross, a Criminologist from the University of Baltimore
Fort Myers Police unveiled a new MRAP or Mine-Resistant Ambush Protection vehicle in June. You'll see it during standoffs or SWAT situations. FMPD declined to comment for this story.
Cape Coral Police have a Bearcat armored vehicle as well as 58 rifles from the Pentagon's 1033 Program which transfers excess military equipment to law enforcement.
"We are not using them as a show of force, we are not out to intimidate people with them, they are only out when they are truly needed at the time," said Det. Sgt. Dana Coston of the Cape Coral Police Department. "As far as militarization goes, I think it's a bit of a misnomer. The ability for an officer to have a long weapon which provides them additional accuracy at a long range increases their safety and survivability."
In a report published this summer, the American Civil Liberties Union claimed the "use of a SWAT team can escalate rather than ameliorate potential violence... local police departments should develop their own internal policies calling for appropriate restraints on the use of SWAT and should avoid all training programs that encourage a 'warrior' mindset..."
"They are coming in in these massive contraptions that belong somewhere in Libya and yet, that's on our streets? What are we doing wrong? Something, we are doing wrong," said FGCU Justice Studies Professor Pamella Seay.
Seay calls it intimidation and believes military vehicles don't belong on neighborhood streets. "We know that it's harmful to the relationships in the populous," Seay said. "We know that we are going to have some old equipment we have to make sure is operating. We are paying good tax dollars for us to support this military equipment on the streets of our cities. Personally, I don't think that's such a good idea."
Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby maintains putting these tools in officers' hands is not "militarizing." It's life-saving. "My hunch is that many of these agencies out there will tell you that some of this equipment saves lives and protects citizens," Kirby said.
This week, President Obama said "there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don't want those lines blurred." Both he and Senator John McCain said the 1033 Program should not be ended but rather, re-evaluated.