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Michigan lawmakers want cops to keep military surplus equipment

By TODD SPANGLER | Detroit Free Press | Published: December 8, 2015

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Six Republican members of Michigan’s congressional delegation wrote President Barack Obama on Monday asking him to reconsider a decision made earlier this year to have law enforcement agencies return surplus military equipment out of concern it could undermine confidence in police.

The letter from the six GOP members came in the wake of a Free Press report last week about complaints from Michigan law enforcement agencies that the loss of military equipment, especially tracked armored vehicles, deprived them of key assets they may not be able to replace.

“You have registered your concerns about the perception the public could have when seeing state and local law enforcement agencies utilizing such equipment in responding to criminal situations,” the letter said. “However, we caution you to avoid penalizing every state and local law enforcement agency … for the bad acts of a few.”

The letter also noted last week’s shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., saying “local police and emergency personnel are on the front lines of this new phase in the terrorists’ war against us” and that it “stands to reason” surplus military equipment should benefit the taxpayers by remaining in the hands of police.

Signing the letter were U.S. Reps. Mike Bishop of Rochester, Bill Huizenga of Zeeland, Candice Miller of Harrison Township, John Moolenaar of Midland, Dave Trott of Birmingham and Fred Upton of St. Joseph. They called on Obama to rescind the order.

Obama signed the executive order calling for a review of the appropriate use of surplus military equipment donated to law enforcement in January, after widespread concerns — including those raised by the response to protests in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014 — about the militarization of local police.

A task force later outlined the new policy, including some prohibited items to be returned, including tracked armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft and grenade launchers.

As the Free Press reported last week, Michigan law enforcement agencies are returning donated surplus military equipment to the federal government this month and several officials, including Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, have argued that they are being forced to give back a “great asset” in a tracked armored vehicle for the county SWAT team despite doing nothing wrong.

"Look what’s happening around the country — mass shootings, barricaded gunman. An armored vehicle gives law enforcement the upper hand,” Wickersham said. Law enforcement agencies in Oakland and Wayne counties, as well as others across the state, are sending back equipment as well.

“Now is not the time for President Obama to be limiting the resources of local authorities while terrorists are likely plotting new attacks in communities throughout the country,” said Trott, whose signature led the letter to Obama. “It’s hard to believe that President Obama would tell the nation his administration is doing everything it can to protect against future terror attacks while simultaneously making it more challenging for local authorities to respond to a potentially deadly attack.”

tspangler@freepress.com

©2015 the Detroit Free Press
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An armored law enforcement vehicle approaches a roadblock at the site of where a sniper in the woods shot a man and then later opened fire on a SWAT team in September, 2012, near Arlington, Wash.
JORDAN STEAD, SEATTLE TIMES/MCT

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