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February 26, 2024
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February 26, 2024

How armed do our local police need to be?

Police in Ferguson, Missouri are following a nationwide trend of having intensely militarized gear
Police in Ferguson, Missouri are following a nationwide trend of having intensely militarized gear

A recent government inventory revealed that a local police department had acquired two grenade launchers through military surplus and currently were storing them in an armory. The launchers are single shot weapons from the Vietnam era known as “thumpers.”
Now, where would a local police department possibly have a need for grenade launchers? Mogadishu? Gaza? Justin Bieber’s house? What if I told you that those launchers were in the hands of the West Springfield, MA, police department? Well, they are, and that is very troubling.
The two launchers have never been deployed by the department, and were acquired from the Department of Defense’s 1033 Program. The DoD describes the program as one that “provides surplus DoD military equipment to state and local civilian law enforcement agencies for use in counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism operations, and to enhance officer safety.”
Numerous departments receive rifles through the program, but in the Massachusetts State Police inventory, West Springfield was the only department with grenade launchers. The department has said that they would only fire non-lethal ammo, such as tear gas, but regardless, these launchers are nicknamed “thumpers” for a reason, and they are meant to provide lethal force in a combat scenario.
Granted, the Springfield Peter Pan station is sketchy, but a war zone it is not.
After MassLive reported on the story, the New York Daily News picked up on it, and it even made it into an on-air editorial from Bill Maher. This story is just a small piece of a much larger issue: the militarization of local police forces in America.
The launchers are not in the hands of a tactical team; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the FBI; or even the state police. They are in the armory of the same police officers that you see in coffee shops, who pull you over for speeding or respond to your calls.
Police officers should not have a need for military weapons. It is stunning to me that the government sees arming police departments with military surplus designed to outfit an occupying army as a better solution than passing harsher gun control legislation. A citizenry with less access to powerful guns will lead to a police department that doesn’t have to store two grenade launchers in its armory.
This statement may seem controversial, but it is vital that police militarization in its current form ends. If you look at what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, where police officers outfitted in combat fatigues fired on protesters from atop tanks and Humvees, you’ll realize that police having access to wartime weapons does nothing to deter violence, but it does cause tensions to spike.
Is the answer to police militarization as simple as “gun control”? No. It is, however, a good place to start. The justification that most small towns give for the weapon purchases involve “all major threats,” and in small towns, the greatest threats usually center around firearms. This is an issue that won’t be going away anytime soon, so it’s best for the government to turn its attention to it before tensions escalate further. Small town police officers don’t need grenade launchers—and so ends one of the easiest arguments in op-ed history.