WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — There’s been a lot of attention this week on the use of military-grade equipment to deal with protests in Ferguson, MO. The protests bring some serious questions to light: Why does law enforcement have this kind of gear, and do they really need it?
You might remember the scene in Wilmington’s Creekwood community last October when a deputy was shot. Swarms of cops from all over the area came to help find the shooter Toting with them rifles, bullet-proof vests and even an armored personnel carrier.
“Law enforcement offices all around the country, but even here in North Carolina, have access to a great deal of military equipment through federal programs and federal grants,” said ACLU of NC Policy Director Sarah Preston.
She says one of those programs requires law enforcement to use that equipment within one year of getting it. She says this gives them incentives to use gear they might not need and could harm innocent bystanders.
“There’s a lot of incidents where members of the public who are completely innocent are being harmed because law enforcement are making decisions to do things like throw flash bangs into children’s bedrooms in the middle of the night to execute a no-knock warrant,” Preston said.
WPD spokeswoman Linda Rawley says the department has an armored personnel vehicle, a helicopter and some weapons.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) visited the Port City today and discussed his thoughts on whether local law enforcement agencies are becoming too militarized.
“Maybe we’ve gone overboard,” Burr said. “That’s for close scrutiny to sort of evaluate. But I don’t want to see the pendulum swing all the way the other way to where officers don’t have the equipment that they need or don’t have the types of vehicles that keep them safe.”
The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office also has an armored personnel carrier and helicopter.
A New Hanover County Sheriff’s spokesman says other than the SABLE helicopter, that agency no longer has weapons or equipment that are military-grade equipment from the federal government.