Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, have raised questions about the militarization of American police departments. When angry protesters took to the streets to demand justice, Ferguson police responded with force. Cops in riot gear fired tear gas and stun grenades at marchers. At least one officer pointed his loaded assault rifle at demonstrators and threatened to kill them if they didn't obey orders.
Ferguson police, it was reported, had obtained their weaponry under something called the Law Enforcement Support Office Program. LESO, as it is known, supplies local police departments with leftover U.S. military equipment.
What hasn't been reported, however, is that a dozen police departments in South Florida have also received military equipment ranging from helicopters to grenade launchers.
Find out what your local police force is packing thanks to LESO.
The Gables may be one of Miami-Dade's most affluent cities, but that hasn't stopped its cops from arming themselves with two mine-resistant vehicles (known as MRAPs) and a bomb-detecting robot.
This small oceanfront community now owns one mine-resistant vehicle. Go figure.
Hialeah PD also owns a mine-resistant vehicle.
Though Miami Gardens has a gang problem, does it need 100 M16s, a mine-resistant vehicle, a bomb-detecting robot, and -- most incredible of all -- four grenade launchers?
Less surprising is that Sweetwater, arguably Miami-Dade's most corrupt city, has mysteriously obtained a bunch of military toys. Under bath-salt-battling ex-mayor Manny Maroño -- now in prison for accepting bribes -- Sweetwater got an ATV, a "commando" armored car, four observation helicopters, three scooters, five trucks, a mine-resistant vehicle, four M14s, 20 M16s, and a grenade launcher.
North Miami Beach:
In addition to owning an MRAP, North Miami Beach cops also boast a "commando" armored car and a "personnel carrier."
One of the county's most peaceful neighborhoods, Miami Shores nonetheless is home to two M14 assault rifles.
Marco Rubio's old hood has received six M14s and 50 M16 assault rifles.
Virginia Gardens, little more than a mile-long stretch of 36th Street near the airport, obtained a "commando" armored car.
Florida International University:
Perhaps the most shocking arsenal of all belongs to an educational institution. FIU police have obtained 50 M16 assault rifles and a mine-resistant vehicle.
Rounding out the list are the Miami Police Department (a utility truck) and Florida City PD (a truck and ten holographic gun sights). A spokesman for Miami-Dade Police said the department has not participated in the LESO program. Instead, it buys its own equipment.
Asked why a university would need such firepower or if military equipment would intimidate students, an FIU spokeswoman did not respond.
Critics claim, however, that these arsenals are unnecessary and counterproductive.
"Police militarization sends the message that law enforcement views the citizenry as its enemy rather than as the community it is supposed to serve and protect," said University of Miami associate law professor Mary Anne Franks. "This creates a volatile dynamic between police and citizens that rarely advances the interests of law and order.
"Police officers equipped with soldiers' tools but without soldiers' training tend to escalate rather than defuse conflict," she continued. "Creating incentives to respond to low-level tensions with high-level shows of force is dangerous to society as a whole; combined with the racism and prejudice endemic to many police forces around the country, its lethality takes on a particularly pointed character."
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On Monday, President Barack Obama also addressed the issue thusly:
"I think it's probably useful for us to review how the funding has gone, how local law enforcement has used grant dollars to make sure that what they're purchasing is stuff that they actually need, because there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don't want those lines blurred."