Horror over police militarization is a commonplace in America today. Growing anger over police killings of black people in the U.S. over the past year has prodded people across the political spectrum to contemplate the drawbacks of equipping police officers like the military and treating neighborhood streets as a theater of war. Pulling out assault rifles against the mentally unstable and using tanks to quell protesters is becoming less tolerable to the public.
Mother Jones acquired over 450 requests by police departments across the country between 2012 and 2014 for armored combat vehicles, perhaps "the most iconic piece of equipment in the debate over militarizing local police." The requests to the federal government were accompanied by a rationale to justify the special expenditure for heavy-duty gear.
The investigation found that police chiefs rarely referred to terrorism, barricaded gunmen, downed officers or active shooters as reasons for the vehicles, "as police advocates do in public." Instead, "the single most common reason agencies requested a mine-resistant vehicle was to combat drugs."
A quarter of the applications stated they expected to use armored combat vehicles for drug enforcement, and nearly half described themselves as situated within a "High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area" in their justification.
The Washington Post's analysis of the documents unearthed by Mother Jones found that marijuana was named in several of the requests, and ranked alongside methamphetamines as the drug that surfaces most frequently among the requests.
Police chiefs listed eradicating marijuana operations and the need to apprehend high-risk suspects related to marijuana operations as reasons for obtaining the trucks.
Earlier this year, in response to public outcry over police killings, the Obama administration announced a ban on some military-grade equipment, including armored vehicles that move on tracks. But a great deal of military equipment can still be handed over to police departments by the Department of Defense, and the iconic wheeled armored vehicles that graced many dramatic photos of last year's protests in Ferguson, Missouri, are among them.