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Pennsylvania senator seeks military equipment for police

By CHRIS POTTER | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Tribune News Service) | Published: June 28, 2016

PITTSBURGH — During a campaign stop Monday at the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial on the North Shore, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey said the June 12 mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., showed that "we are a nation at war" — and he called on his Democratic challenger, Katie McGinty, to join him in arming police to fight it.

Toomey, a Republican, touted his bid to restore the "1033 program," which allows local police to obtain mothballed military equipment at no or low cost. Police have used the 3-decade-old program to obtain everything from sidearms and camouflage to grenade launchers and armored vehicles.

"Some of this equipment we saw playing a big role in Orlando," Toomey said.

After complaints of heavy-handed policing spurred uprisings in cities around the country, President Barack Obama signed a 2015 executive order sharply limiting the program. Mr. Toomey has sponsored legislation to reverse that order, and on Monday said, "I'm calling on Katie McGinty ... to let us know where she stands" on it.

The McGinty campaign declined to state a position either way.

"Does Pat Toomey honestly think the daughter of a police officer doesn't care about protecting law enforcement from harm?" said a campaign statement, referring to Ms. McGinty's father, a Philadelphia officer for more than two decades. "Nobody is buying his argument, especially after he voted against funding for the COPS program just two weeks ago."

That's a reference to a June 9 vote on an amendment to add more than $30 billion to a defense bill for initiatives like infrastructure and drug treatment along with hiring more police. The amendment failed, with all but one Republican opposed.

Toomey's bill to restore 1033 is backed by the Fraternal Order of Police and at least another half-dozen police organizations. In 2014, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that 140 law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania had used the program. But it's not universally popular.

An armored vehicle and some other military-style equipment deployed in Orlando during the June 12 shooting, for example, was acquired elsewhere. In 2014, the city's police chief, John Mina, told a local newspaper that military surplus often required costly maintenance. A department spokeswoman said Monday that under Chief Mina, "we have utilized grants and other funding to purchase most of our SWAT gear [but] none under the '1033 program.' "

Although the surplus equipment "enhances the safety of officers who are often called upon to respond to dangerous or violent situations," reported a White House task force in 2015, many leaders "have voiced concerns about ... the 'militarization' of law enforcement."

Toomey brushed that concern aside Monday. "In my view, saving lives is more important than worrying about offending someone," he said.

Chris Potter: cpotter@post-gazette.com.
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