After the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, St. Louis County Police confronted protesters with snipers atop armored vehicles, and images of that broadcast around the world reignited a national debate about the militarization of local police agencies.
ST. LOUIS—Ferguson has been ordered to surrender two Humvees acquired through a controversial Defense Department program that transfers surplus military equipment to local police agencies.
It’s not yet clear if the directive from the Pentagon — which was first reported Tuesday in the Guardian — was sparked by political pressure, a record-keeping snafu, or both.
Mike O’Connell, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Public Safety, said the Pentagon approved the transfer of two Humvees to Ferguson in June 2013 and then later gave permission for two more.
But in August 2014, after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, St. Louis County Police confronted protesters with snipers atop armored vehicles, and images of that were broadcast around the world, reigniting a national debate about the militarization of local police agencies.
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The Public Safety Department acts as a middleman in the transfer of surplus gear for the Defense Department, and as the unrest grew, the department was inundated with records requests about how much equipment Ferguson had received under the program.
The department discovered a discrepancy between its records and those of the federal government, O’Connell said.
While state records showed Ferguson had properly acquired four Humvees, Department of Defense records showed Ferguson had only two, O’Connell said.
Although the state acted as an intermediary, Ferguson obtained the vehicles directly from the Department of Defense.
Mark Wright, a spokesman at the Pentagon, said that he was unaware of reports that the two Humvees had been transferred directly from the Defense Department to Ferguson but that even if they had, “they are not on the books” and have to be returned because of it.
Humvees transferred to the Winfield Police Department, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department and the Springfield Airport Police Department also were not in Pentagon records, O’Connell said.
On Monday, after looting and gunfire marred observances of the anniversary of Brown’s death, the Pentagon asked the state to take possession of the two Humvees. The agency is arranging to pick them up, O’Connell said.
The Pentagon did not ask any of the other agencies to relinquish their vehicles, he said.
“The other three were fine,” O’Connell said. “They just wanted these two out of Ferguson.”