Editor’s note: The following report is the second in a multi-part series on the topic of the militarization of law enforcement. The report examines the issue from multiple perspectives in Young County.
Out on the northern perimeter of Graham in Young County Sheriff Bryan Walls’ office, Walls and deputy Jim Budarf were all smiles.
The department made a sizable drug arrest last week involving 20 marijuana plants grown at a residence off of Medlan Chapel Road, and both men said they were happy about the bust.
But Walls and Budarf were also eager to set the record straight on another matter, one that concerns many across the country and which was the subject of a 20-minute discussion at the Aug. 11 Young County Commissioners Court meeting.
As the court carried its several-hours-long meeting into the afternoon Aug. 11, Commissioner Mike Sipes brought up his concerns about the continued militarization of police forces across the country.
It’s an issue that has concerned him for a while now, and due to the most recent Young County Sheriff’s Department acquisition of its third military vehicle, more specifically an MRAP, or mine-resistant ambush protected armored vehicle, the issue hit even closer to home for Sipes.
The topic has been gaining in strength after a string of several high-profile shootings across the country and downright exploded after the chaos that broke out earlier this month in Ferguson, Missouri.
This past June, Matt Apuzzo put out an oft-cited New York Times article and supplemental interactive informational graphic tracking the supply of military equipment to municipal and county law enforcement agencies throughout the country.
“Police departments, though, are adding more firepower and military gear than ever,” Apuzzo wrote. “Some, especially in larger cities, have used federal grant money to buy armored cars and other tactical gear. And the free surplus program remains a favorite of many police chiefs who say they could otherwise not afford such equipment.”
The info-graphic associated with the article focuses on all sorts of military equipment, from body armor to assault rifles to night-vision goggles to armored vehicles designed to withstand land mines.
In a county-by-county breakdown, the New York Times graphic stated that Young County had one armored military vehicle. That data was accurate prior to Tuesday, Aug. 19, the day that three Young County deputies returned to Graham with the armored 6x6 vehicle from Fort Bliss.
Apuzzo wrote that often, law enforcement agencies see the opportunity for free hand-me-down military equipment as a no-brainer.
“The Pentagon program does not push equipment onto local departments. The pace of transfers depends on how much unneeded equipment the military has, and how much the police request. Equipment that goes unclaimed typically is destroyed. So police chiefs say their choice is often easy: Ask for free equipment that would otherwise be scrapped or look for money in their budgets to prepare for an unlikely scenario.”
To a certain extent, Walls agrees with that assessment.
Read the entire story in Wednesday's Graham Leader.