KY lawmakers hear concerns about militarization of police - WDRB 41 Louisville News

KY lawmakers hear concerns about militarization of police

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Local police departments are getting millions of dollars in free military equipment from the federal government, but some are now wondering whether all that gear is a valuable tool or if it blurs the line between police and the military.

In the wake of the riots in Ferguson, MO lawmakers in Kentucky are looking for answers.

"It's tools that we're not going to use very often, and we're going to use them in a defensive posture," said Jeffersontown Police Chief Rick Sanders.

He's referring to two Humvees that are part of the half-million dollars worth of surplus military gear obtained by his department for free through a federal program.

Sanders says the vehicles are not intended to flex police muscle.

"During inclement weather, we can use these vehicles to get through an area that's got a lot of debris or a lot of heavy snowfall," said Sanders.

Recent riots in a suburb of St. Louis, during which police rolled out full-scale military equipment, have resulted in increased concern about the militarization of local police departments.

"The line between our US military and civilian policing is blurring significantly," said Peter Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University's School of Justice Studies.

At a hearing in Frankfort, Kraska warned lawmakers the increased use of military equipment and tactics threatens to break the trust between police and the people they serve.

"When they display massive levels of weaponry, when they infuriate communities with things like no-knock drug raids, they lose legitimacy. Hence the government loses legitimacy," he said.

Chief Sanders, who is also head of the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police, testified officers need the equipment to face increasingly violent threats.

"These people are better equipped than we are a lot of times," said Sanders.

Rep. Steven Riggs (D-Louisville) organized the hearing.

"My takeaway is that there has been misapplication of these forces, which has caused the consternation. But we also need to be careful not to take away tools that that they really need - rarely," said Riggs.

Chief Sanders says police who misuse the equipment should be held accountable.

"But the people that are using it properly, like in most scenarios, shouldn't have their equipment taken away from them," he said.

So far, no bills have been filed that would limit or regulate police access to military equipment.

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