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Militarization of our police - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Militarization of Our Police

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  • Militarization of Our Police Part II

    Militarization of Our Police Part II

    Armored vehicles, automatic weapons and advanced tactical gear weren't the typical equipment for law enforcement just 10 years ago in North Dakota. But that has all changed. Whether in response to what
    Armored vehicles, automatic weapons and advanced tactical gear weren't the typical equipment for law enforcement just 10 years ago in North Dakota. But that has all changed. Whether in response to what

"What's happening here is we're building a domestic military. It's unlawful and unconstitutional to use American troops on American soil. So what we're doing is building a military," says Col. Martino of New Hampshire.

You just heard from a retired Marine Colonel from Concord, New Hampshire. He didn't want to see his local police department take 250 thousand dollars in grants from the Federal Government to buy a new military grade vehicle that we have four of here in North Dakota.

Since September 11th 34 billion dollars have been spent with the Department of Homeland Security funds. But right now the US government is almost 17 trillion dollars in debt and heading further in that direction. For the past two months Valley News Live has been looking into the spending of some of those funds at the local level, all in the name of defense. What we found is a police force that has evolved drastically in just ten plus years. Valley News teams Eric Crest scratches the surface tonight in part one of the so called militarization of the police force right here in the F-M.

There was a time in police departments locally and nationally, not so long ago, that the policeman was someone who carried a badge and gun and patrolled the community on foot. Someone you got to know, someone kids looked up too.

Today, the image is quite different and becoming more and more common. Police forces are adopting more of a paramilitary look in some departments. To some, the look is concerning in their appearance. Especially considering the outfits for some squads are now more commonly outfitted for war than patrolling the streets of Fargo. In some cases the standard police car has been replaced with mraps first used in Afghanistan.

So how did we get here? Has crime in the valley gotten so bad that equipment battled tested in Iraq and Afghanistan has become the defacto uniform for our police forces? Or is it something else?

"Actually when I first started we didn't even have bullet proof vests," says retired Moorhead Police Deputy Chief Dave Andersen.

Andersen served the Moorhead Police Department for 27 years starting in the early 70's.

"I was promoted to Lt. and the last four years I was Deputy Chief," Andersen tells Valley News Live.

But Andersen hung up his patrol belt. He now teaches the future law enforcement agents of tomorrow at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead. Teaching young men and women who he says will be more equipped with advanced weaponry and defense than his department ever was.

"We weren't even issued... when I started we had to buy our own weapons," explains Andersen of how he acquired his gun for the department.

When Andersen started his weapon was a 6 round revolver that he bought. A far cry from the standard issue weapon of today, a 40 caliber semi-automatic glock. This is just one example of the advancements in technology that has changed the face of police departments across the country.

Over at NDSU in Fargo, Carol Archbold, an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice says the Fargo Police department is far from a militarized force, "a lot of what they use today, we've always had. It just looks different and I can tell you it's a lot more expensive."

Advancements in crime fighting technology come in many different shapes and sizes. Outfitting bomb squads and swat teams in North Dakota with the newest tricks of the trade comes with a hefty price tag. Much of it footed by the Department of Homeland Security.

Greg Wilz the Director of Homeland Security in North Dakota says, "we have gone from like an all time high of 17 million back in 2003 down to what we're receiving now which is about 3.4 million a year in Homeland Security grant funding."

Since 2001 the Federal government has written about 34 billion dollars in grants to police departments across the country. All in the name of securing the homeland and fighting terrorism. Police departments we spoke to said they are happy to take the funds if they believe they can actually utilize the grants.

"You can't really fault the police department for applying for the grants. It's a smart thing to do if they want that technology. But I think the idea here is the grants are specifically outlining what the technology is used for and that's something the government would dictate," says Prof. Archbold.

Locally the Fargo Police department has created a swat team, bomb squad, and purchased a tank that's only been used a dozen times in nearly four years. All of these purchases and training was heavily funded with Department of Homeland Security dollars.

We wanted to know what else your tax dollars have purchased and whether or not if it's in response to an increase in crime. Through a freedom of information request we pulled the spending records of the Fargo Police department since 2003 and records for the Moorhead Police since 2006.

Over the past 10 years Fargo's department has spent just about 900 thousand dollars on what many would deem high tech tactical weaponry and gear. Each year more money has been spent while the crime rate has more or less stayed the same.

"It's multi-purposed. They can use it for many things but the intention the grant says that's it's for is anti-terrorism efforts. So if that's the intention I don't believe there is any terrorism here," says Prof. Archbold. Though she and Prof. Andersen both agree that the police departments in the F-M are far from militarized forces.

We took the question of spending directly to the office of Homeland Security and asked them if the expenditures were really meant to fight terrorism in the wake of September 11th.

Valley News Live Reporter Eric Crest questioned whether that's what the dollars were intended for specifically, "I don't know if initially the dollars were meant to be spent in that respect?"

"And I would agree with you. I think years ago these dollars were spent for terrorism. But we get smarter over time. For example, If we're only building a terrorism capability and now we set it on the shelf and not use it till an incident occurs, how ready are we really going to be?" Says Dir. Greg Wilz explaining the reality of the spending.

Preparing a police force for the worst case scenario isn't taken lightly ever since 9-11 and the federal government is now willing to back that belief monetarily. Even if there aren't acts of terrorism in North Dakota.

"If we're better prepared on a daily basis does that not counter terrorism at some level? I think the answer is yes," says Dir. Wilz.

Thursday on Valley News Live 10 at 10 we sit down with the Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes. Ternes agrees with us in some respects, the look of our local police department is changing.

"I think we have to acknowledge that the dynamics associated with policing and providing public safety services has changed drastically," says Chief Ternes.

We also will speak with some watchdogs who warn that as police departments make these military like upgrades in law enforcement we're inching closer and closer to what could become something of a police state. These watchdogs also claim that it's not a stretch to relate what is happening with federal dollars and military contractors to something our nation was warned about years ago by a prominent president known as the military industrial complex.

Tune into Valley News Live 10 at 10 on Thursday to watch part two of this exclusive story you'll only find on Valley News Live.

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There was a day when a police officer was someone who was just a cop on the beat. They simply wore a badge and a revolver and walked the streets in their communities where everyone knew their name. But times have changed.

 Police officers are now equipped with gear that some say is better suited to the theater of war than the streets of Fargo/Moorhead. Some watchdogs warn the United States is building a private, domestic army. Others say local police departments are just taking advantage of blank checks being written by the Department of Homeland Security and funded by taxpayer dollars. So what's really going on?

 Valley News Live spent two months investigating the militarization of our police. See what we found in part one tonight on Valley News Live at 10pm.

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