Michigan police departments have armed themselves with grenade launchers, armored vehicles, automatic rifles and other equipment — 128,000 items in all, worth an estimated $43 million — under a federal program that allows police to obtain surplus gear free from the U.S. military.
A Free Press review of items transferred from the military since 2006 shows Michigan law enforcement agencies have received 17 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles or MRAPs, built to counter roadside bombs; 1,795 M16 rifles, the U.S. military’s combat weapon of choice; 696 M14 rifles; 530 bayonet and scabbards; 165 utility trucks; 32 12-gauge, riot-type shotguns; nine grenade launchers; and three observation helicopters.
Federal officials won’t say which agencies got equipment, but the Free Press inquiry shows it went not just to large counties with high crime, but some of the state’s smallest counties and towns.
For instance, Dundee police, who patrol a village of about 4,000 residents, got a mine-resistant ambush vehicle. Barry County in rural western Michigan, with just under 60,000 residents, got five grenade launchers.
Police say they need military-grade weapons to counter heavily armed drug dealers, mass shooters and terrorists. Armored vehicles can be used against barricaded gunmen, to evacuate citizens in emergencies or to quell riots, while high-powered, automatic rifles keep police from being outgunned by bad guys.
But the growing militarization of local police is raising alarms across the country. Civil rights advocates, law enforcement experts and politicians from both parties are questioning the proliferation of “warrior cops” — local police arrayed in SWAT team gear and camouflage, using equipment once seen only in combat to patrol the streets of America’s cities, suburbs and small towns.