Military Vehicles Used By Police At Center Of Ferguson Debate
TULSA, Oklahoma - Missouri's governor is lifting a curfew in a St. Louis suburb, while the National Guard is on hand to help restore order in the city of Ferguson.
Nightly clashes between police and protesters have been going on for more than a week since unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in the street.
A team of medical examiners hired by the family of Brown discussed the private autopsy they conducted on his body, which shows he was shot six times.
“All of these gunshot wounds were survivable except the one that entered through the top of the head and went through the brain,” Forensic Pathologist Dr. Michael Baden said.
The forensic experts say a wound on Brown's arm is consistent with witness accounts that the unarmed teen was surrendering when a police officer shot him, but the evidence isn't conclusive.
In the unrest in the community since Brown's death, there has been looting and rioting. However, the peaceful protestors assembling in public and the journalists documenting the moments have criticized the tactics and equipment used against them by police in Ferguson.
Much of that equipment, including armored trucks, comes from a government surplus program. We spoke with two agencies in Green Country that have similar vehicles.
The Tulsa County Sheriff's Office and the Tulsa Police Department say the main use for these trucks is to save lives. More than $5 billion in surplus military equipment is being used by state and local law enforcement agencies all across the country. Mine-resistant armored personnel carriers once used by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are now on American streets.
A list obtained by News On 6 shows more than 130 law enforcement agencies in Oklahoma are participating in the military surplus program. The program allows agencies like the Tulsa Police Department to buy large armored trucks for a fraction of the cost.
List Of Participating Oklahoma Agencies
“I think it's a win-win for everybody,” TPD Capt. Ryan Perkins said.
Perkins is part of TPD's Special Operations Unit and he says the trucks are all about protecting officers and people in dangerous situations.
“The MRAP that we were given as a part of the program cost $800,000 and we paid $2,500 for the rental for it, for its usage until the program's over," Perkins said.
Perkins says if someone is hurt and is in a dangerous location, they provide cover to officers and rescue people. He says the vehicles are not to be used as a weapon.
“No. 1, they're not tanks. Why are they not tanks? Because they don't have a gun on them, there's no guns attached to these vehicles," he said.
TCSO has surplus military trucks, too. Perkins says the trucks' main mission in Oklahoma is for search and rescue after natural disasters.
“We're not arming ourselves for anything,” TCSO's Billy McKelvey said. “This is honestly, truly meant for search and rescue.”
In a statement, Senator Jim Inhofe said, "State and local governments have been able to cut costs by utilizing the Department of Defense's surplus equipment programs to meet their individual needs. A recent decision by the Obama Administration would have ended the programs and deprived Oklahoma's rural fire departments of critical equipment they rely on. With the help of Governor Fallin and state officials, we were able to fully restore the programs and their enormous benefit to emergency responders. As more questions arise, Chairman Levin, myself and the Armed Services Committee will continue to review all aspects of the programs to ensure that they are properly assisting emergency responders and law enforcement agencies in their mission to provide safety and security."