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Mortars and Mortarboards
America's Militarization Reaches College Campuses

It’s well known that surplus military gear re-imported from war zones like Iraq was shipped to municipalities across the country, creating ripe conditions for excessive police force. Now, however, this gear is being shipped to college campuses. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

At Central Florida, which has an enrollment of nearly 60,000 and a Division I football team, the device [a grenade launcher] was acquired, a police spokeswoman said, for “security and crowd control.” But the university’s police force isn’t the only one to have come upon a grenade launcher. Hinds Community College—located in western Mississippi, with a student population of 11,000—had one too. […]

Both institutions received their launchers from the same source: the Department of Defense. At least 117 colleges have acquired equipment from the department through a federal program, known as the 1033 program, that transfers military surplus to law-enforcement agencies across the country, according to records The Chronicle received after filing Freedom of Information requests with state governments (see table of equipment).

Read the whole piece to get a sense of how this equipments is obtained—and used. Advocates for the program claim it helps with things like crowd control, but critics, amazingly, find grenade launchers an odd tool to combat typical campuses crimes like public drunkenness. As if we needed any more evidence, here is clear proof that federal programs have misjudged the best of way to make use of these weapons.

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  • David E.M. Thompson

    Those grenade launchers are not being furnished with ammunition – no grenades.
    They are used for launching tear gas canisters at a range of a hundred yards or so, to keep police from actually having to come in contact with the citizens they are “policing.”

    • Andrew Allison

      Could it be that the U.S. military acquired, voluntarily or otherwise, stuff they neither need nor want? One wonders, for example, which will be the first police force to acquire an F-35 [/sarcasm]?

    • B-Sabre

      I imagine a lot of it was stuff acquired for either use by US troops in Iraq or Afghanistan, or for delivery to those countries that have now become excess to need. I’ve read of multiple contracts for equipment for Iraq that continued after the failure to negotiate a SOFA with that government, because it was easier and cheaper to take delivery than to cancel the contract. Things like MRAPS (particularly the older, less cross-country capable models) are being disposed of because the Army doesn’t want the white elephants cluttering up their motor pools. And since We’re Never Going To Occupy Another Country Again, we don’t need supplies of anti-riot equipment for our troops…
      Rright when Ferguson started to brew up, there was an article in one of the Acquisition profession magazines by the MRAP PM, about how they had solved their “disposal phase” problem by leveraging the 1033 program. Traditionally, the acquisition process has focused on the first 3 phases (Development, Production, Fielding) of the life cycle, and assumed that the fourth phase (Disposal) would be “turn item into razor blades” or some such. That’s not an acceptable answer nowadays. So, at least from the MRAP PM’s point of view, there was no sinister attempt to militarize the police force to turn them into Government jack-booted thugs – it was just a convienent way to get rid of excess equipment.
      That said…I believe that the main problem has never been the equipment, but the attitude of the people using it. If you gave a pistol to a pacifist, it would never be used. If you gave military equipment to a police force that wasn’t trained to view the population as an adversary or a threat, it would stay in their armories and garages. In fact, they’d probably say “Thanks, but no thanks.” This is the same as the gun control debate – the issue is not the tool, but who uses it.

      • David E.M. Thompson

        I “imagine” the same thing. And it’s an abominable waste.

      • Andrew Allison

        I don’t believe that the police forces receiving these weapons are trained to view the population as an adversary or a threat. The problem is that, as demonstrated by the huge increase in the use of SWAT teams for routine police actions, to a hammer everything looks like a nail. What’s the point of owning a MRAP if you can’t display it? The first rule of MRAP deployment by the way is to stop at the first gas station, because they go just three miles on a gallon of gas (which rather weakens the argument made by a local recipient in a city with a population of 1,662 and violent crime rate 20% that of the U.S. average in 2012 that it’s a regional, rather than a local, resource). It’s about men and boys and the size of their toys, and the public is paying the price.

        • B-Sabre

          I agree with you about the SWAT problem, and I think that there is a clause in the 1033 program that says if yo don’t use the equipment within a year you have to return it.

          But the problem I spoke of also exists. They’re constantly being warned of “homegrown extremists” (usually of the right-wing variety) by the DoJ, and the sovereign citizen movement has become the latest bogeyman of cops. Just about every time I read an interview with the police about why they needed this stuff, it was phrased as “we have to keep up with the increasing violence and use of powerful firearms by criminals” at a time when violent crime has been decreasing for decades, and long arms (let alone “assault rifles” are use in a microscopic number of crimes

  • BobSykes

    The Ohio State University acquired an MRAP armored vehicle last year. Perhaps they remembered Kent State University (OSU 66/KSU 0) and the poor marksmanship of the Ohio National Guard troops and wanted better protection from the rampaging mobs that terrorize the campus.

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