Militarization of Our Police Part II - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Militarization of Our Police Part II

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  • Militarization of Our Police

    Militarization of our police

    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
    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

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 the bad guys have, or just a response to available funds from the federal government. The high tech police of tomorrow has become more of the norm today.

"We're building a domestic army and we're shrinking the military because the government is afraid of it's own citizens," says retired Colonel of the Military, Pete Martino.

Just a few years back Fargo purchased a heavily armored vehicle called a bearcat. It's used by the SWAT team here for raids and standoff scenarios. It cost $250 thousand dollars but it's only been used about a dozen times in nearly four years. What's even more interesting is the Department of Homeland Security is swooping them up for towns across the country.

Recently the city of Concord, New Hampshire considered purchasing a Bearcat. When retired Marine Colonel Pete Martino found out about the plan he felt he needed to say something.

"The last time 10 terrorists were in the same place at the same time was September 11th and all these vehicles in the world wouldn't have prevented it nor would it have helped anybody," says Martino.

So how and why did tools usually reserved for the theater of war end up patrolling the streets of Fargo?

Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes says they simply had to keep up with the potential threat, "our goal is to be as prepared as possible to deal with the crime issues that are either happening in our community or have the potential of happening."

Perhaps we look to history for the answer to what is happening today. Back in 1961as Dwight Eisenhower was leaving office he warned the American public about the government getting too involved with the business and financial gain that could be made off the backs of the military and the tools they need for war.

"We have been compelled to create a permanent armanance industry of vast proportions.... The councils of government we must guard against. The acquisition of unwarranted influence whether sought or unsought by the military industrial complex," said President Eisenhower.

So is the military industrial complex at work today? Is our government writing seamlessly blank checks to military contractors for local police departments under the guise of protecting the homeland?

"A lot of my own research deals with foreign intervention, US military intervention. And one of the things I noticed is that these efforts waving spill back effects domestically. One of them was a lot of the surplus equipment from abroad was ending up in the hands of domestic police departments," says Chris Coyne, a Economics Professor at George Mason University.

Coyne has spent the last few years looking into what he describes as the militarization of the police. The creation of a high-tech armed force right in our back yard.

"Local politicians and local police departments are obtaining this equipment especially in those local towns and cities where there really is not a concern of raids or terroristic acts or anything like that. But the tax payers at the local level are footing the bill for this," says Prof. Coyne.

Today police agencies are figuring out how to utilize their new tools, weapons, and training, even if their not using them all the time.

So Valley News Live asked the Fargo Police Chief the question that may or may not have been on your mind. Are they preparing for something and actually building an army here and militarizing our local department?

"It's not just happening here... But is that a stretch? Am I crazy? Should I put on my conspiracy theory hat to say those tools look like something overseas and you're only buying more of them?" Asked Valley News Teams Eric Crest.

"And you'd be right in the terms of the appearance of some of that equipment. But in terms of building an army if you will... That's not what I am interested in," says Chief Ternes.

You don't have to look far to find other professionals in the field who would agree with Chief Ternes.

"I think the technology has advanced overtime and the technology looks military like. So that may give the perception that it is the militarization of the police. But I'm not convinced that's the case," says NDSU Asst. Prof. of Criminal Justice, Carol Archbold.

"It's crazy expensive. A lot of that equipment. But if you need it, it comes in pretty handy. And if you don't have it, and people get killed, what's the cost there?" adds Minnesota State Community Technical College's Criminal Justice Coordinator, Dave Andersen.

You can't put a price on a life. But you can't spend money that we don't have as a nation either. These grants that local departments have the opportunity to utilize have added up to over 34 billion dollars since 9/11.

"Lets not confuse the issue by saying it's federal money, state money, it's local money at the end of the day. It's all taxpayer money," says Chief Ternes.

Looking at the local narcotic unit's highlights for 2012, who are a big part of the utilization of these grants for high-tech weapons and training opportunities. They had seven big drug busts in 2012. That resulted in just over forty thousand dollars in drug money taken off the streets. Meanwhile the spending for high-tech gear at the Fargo department was at it's ten year peak of over 330 thousand dollars in 2012.

"The risk is that if we allow a little bit, under the guise that it's making us safer, we're gonna look back in 5-10-15 years and America is not gonna look like America anymore. It will look like a police state," warns Prof. Coyne.

"If you take someone armed with a semi-automatic rifle in a school a workplace or anywhere. An officer that's equipped and armed and trained the way they were 20-30 years ago, is nothing more that the next victim," says Chief Ternes.

So while we debate whether or not too much spending is going on for something we don't necessarily see today. That doesn't mean that these current decisions being made won't change how America will look or act tomorrow.

If you would like to check out the first part of this story check out the link below.


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