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Why have our police departments been militarized?

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Last week, two very small Midwest communities received their very own MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle). One went to the Spring Grove Police Department, in Illinois (Spring Grove boasts a population of 5,800), and the other was delivered to the Johnson County Sheriff's Office in Iowa.

Spring Grove police chief Tom Sanders recently explained the unusual acquisition to the Northwest Herald, saying: "The problem is that there is all kinds of violence going on, and I think we have to be prepared for it."

The Spring Grove police department also recently armed their entire 14-officer strong force with M-16 rifles.

So, is tiny Spring Grove a hotbed for violent crime, or the most recent target for terrorist strikes?...Hardly, in fact, between Jan. 1, 2011 and Jan. 1, 2013, the town of Spring Grove recorded only three violent crimes within the city limits.

Why then do they need a vehicle designed to withstand blasts from grenades, mines and IEDs (improvised explosive devices)?...Simple, they're getting them for free.

Though MRAPs typically cost somewhere between $500,000 and $800,000 to produce, the federal government has been donating their used ones to police and sheriff's departments across the country, through the Department of Defense Excess Property Program (1033 Program). The program also provides other military equipment, such as planes, helicopters, helmets and body armor, "for use in counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism operations, and to enhance officer safety," according to the website.

Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek was rather defensive when recently asked why the mostly rural county needed an armored vehicle, designed to be fitted with a 50-caliber machine gun...

Sheriff Pulkrabek told the Iowa City Press-Citizen:

People are calling it a tank. It's not a tank, it's a defensive vehicle. Essentially it's really a rescue, recovery and transport vehicle."

Of course, these two localities are hardly alone in their militarization. In fact, McHenry County, where Spring Grove is located, has recently acquired their own MRAP, along with two Humvees.

So, just how many MRAPs have been distributed around the country?...No one knows for certain (except for the feds), but the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency, which oversees the 1033 program, claims that "over 8,000 federal and state law enforcement agencies from all 50 states and the U.S. territories participate in the program."

What follows are just a few of the tragic results of turning our nation's peace officers into what amounts to 'shock troops:'

-In 2008, a La Plata County Sheriff's Department SWAT team burst into the mobile home at 74 Hidden Lane in search of a methamphetamine dealer. Unfortunately, they were supposed to carry-out the raid at 82 Hidden Lane.

As they rushed in, they shoved the homeowner, Virginia Herrick, 77, onto the floor and separated her from the oxygen tube she requires in order to breathe. The police did not realize their mistake until they had already handcuffed Herrick.

Herrick told reporters: "They didn't give me a chance to ask for a search warrant or see a search warrant or anything. I'm not about to argue with those big old guys, especially when they've got guns and those big old sledgehammers."

-In 2007, Marva Morris received a call at work from neighbors, telling her home in Chesapeake, Va., was surrounded by police officers. By the time she arrived home, her house was in shambles.

Acting on a bad tip, a SWAT team stormed the single mother’s home looking for a suspect, who Morris had actually taken-out a warrant against. Police shot-out windows, filled the home with tear gas, busted-out windows and doors, shot holes into mattresses, and even tossed clothes out of the windows. No one was home at the time.

Of course, the home was uninhabitable for Morris and the six children she was raising. When she demanded that police repair her home, she was given a business card with a number to city's Risk Management Department and told that she could submit a claim. Cit y officials decided to pay for the full restoration of her home, only after the case received a great deal of media attention.

-In 2006, 92 year old Kathryn Johnston was shot 39 times by an Atlanta Swat team.

Johnson was so fearful that neighbors said she never left her home, and would only open her door after friends who placed her groceries on her front porch had left. An erroneous tip from an informant was enough for the Atlanta Police Department to invade her home. Police eventually admitted to lying to obtain a search warrant and to planting drugs in her home after killing her.

-In 2006, Thibodeaux, La., residents Mike Lefort, 61, and his mother, Thelma, 83, were both thrown to the ground as a SWAT team burst into the wrong house with a 'no knock' warrant. Thelma who suffered from hypertension nearly had a stroke. The police chief eventually offered them an apology.

-In 2006, a 52 member SWAT team stormed into a Denver home in search of a friendly small-stakes poker game. The same thing happened a few months later when SWAT and K-9 units barged in on a charity poker game in Baltimore.

-In 2005, Cheryl Lynn Noel, a single mom, was shot by police for picking up her legally registered handgun. She went for her gun to defend herself after a SWAT team broke into her Baltimore, Md., home at 4:30 a.m. Police stormed her house that night because they claimed to have found marijuana seeds in the family's trash can.

-In 1994, Rev. Acelyne Williams, 75, of Boston, died of a heart attack after a SWAT team broke into his home. Police actually had the wrong address.

Is there a larger agenda afoot? Is this something more nefarious than big boys playing with big boy toys? Are we headed for martial law?

Who knows...But, what is clear is the fact that militarizing our police departments will do nothing but create more mistrust between citizens and those sworn to protect them.