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WASHINGTON — Local police forces need military equipment to fight terrorism, members of Congress argued in June when they successfully beat back legislation that would have restricted the Defense Department’s ability to transfer such weaponry to police departments.
During a late-night debate on an annual defense appropriations bill, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) tried to attach an amendment to demilitarize the police. Specifically, his measure would have blocked a Defense Department program that provides surplus military equipment — Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles and M16 assault rifles, among other things — to local law enforcement, free of charge.
The House crushed Grayson’s effort, with 355 votes against it and 62 for it. Ahead of the vote, lawmakers argued that it’s good for local law enforcement to have access to weapons used in war zones. One member warned it would “devastate” police departments if they didn’t have access to such equipment.
“As a past sheriff, we utilized that equipment in a responsible way,” said Rep. Richard Nugent (R-Fla.). “End of the day, you can always find misuses of any equipment that’s given or utilized by law enforcement. It’s the responsibility of those communities to keep that law enforcement agency in check. But to just outright ban the usage of that equipment would devastate local law enforcement agencies across the nation.”
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