Criticism of the militarization of local police forces is commonplace in the post-9/11 world, but the issue has been amplified by the recent events in Ferguson, Mo.
In the wake of a controversial shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer, the small town of about 20,000 has been besieged by riots, looting and instances of police brutality. While neither the protestors or police can be exonerated for their behavior over the past month, one take away
has been the perplexing amount of military equipment utilized by law enforcement.
As various media outlets reported, Ferguson police responded to the riots with snipers, combat vehicles and a general approach toward protestors — peaceful or not — as enemies of the state.
In Arkansas, a state vastly similar to Missouri regarding culture and race relations, would an similar police response occur? In light of the equipment that the authorities have at their disposal, it’s a chilling thought.
This website, which emanates from a frightening report by the New York Times about the proliferation of military-grade equipment in several police precincts across the country, allows users to research the various hardware used by law enforcement, and is sortable by state and county. Arkansas, a state with just over 2 million people, possesses a shocking array of firearms and vehicles that seem more appropriate on the battlefield.
For example, Pulaski County, home to the state’s largest and most metropolitan city, Little Rock, owns several weapons that seem excessive for urban crime. Amid the usual provisions like firearms, utility trucks, and flash lights, police have a grenade launcher, a mine-resistant vehicle and a combat/assault/tactical vehicle. According the website, the total value of those three items — designed specifically for modern warfare — are valued at just north of $1 million.
Even the rural counties aren’t immune. Randolph County has a cargo plane. Baxter, Faulkner, and Mississippi Counties each have an “observation helicopter.” Meanwhile, Benton County, which has 160,000 fewer people than Pulaski County, has two mine-resistant vehicles.
Police simply being in possession of this equipment doesn’t mean they’ll use it. But like John Oliver noted on Last Week Tonight, the dissemination of military-grade weapons, combined with untrained police units, make for a volatile situation.