The last time a giant protest turned into a chaotic state of civil unrest in Hialeah was — well, it's hard to point to a recent example. The city's police stay busy chasing crotch-grabbing car dealers, fake veterinarians, and mail thieves, but a mob of angry rioters has yet to descend upon the "City of Progress."
Regardless, this past Tuesday the Hialeah City Council unanimously voted to spend up to $134,070 on 300 military-grade ballistic helmets for its 355 police officers. That's more than double the amount the city will spend on new patrol vehicles and $51,000 more than the department will get for new uniforms.
Why do they need all of those helmets? Hialeah PD explained that the six-figure purchase was necessary "to avoid injury to officers that respond to civil unrest and other dangerous incidents." The city will purchase the helmets from GL Distributors, a Pembroke Pines company that sells two kinds of ballistic helmets costing between $325 and $445 apiece.
The expenditure is part of a larger trend of local police departments spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on military-style riot gear. In recent years, police departments across Miami-Dade County have purchased body armor, night-vision rifles, and even grenade launchers under the guise of public safety.
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Hialeah is no different. In 2014, the police department acquired its own mine-resistant vehicle. Two years later, the city spent nearly $33,000 on 320 tactical flashlights for police to attach to their handguns.
Civil rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union have criticized the practice of police militarization and called purchases of military equipment "often far beyond what is necessary" to protect the public.
Though law enforcement agencies often cite riots and terrorist activity as reasons for acquiring the equipment, in reality, the military-style gear is often deployed for drug busts.
"The change in equipment is too often paralleled by a corresponding change in attitude whereby police conceive of themselves as 'at war' with communities rather than as public servants concerned with keeping their communities safe," the ACLU says. "We should not be able to mistake our officers for soldiers."