Military surplus program debated in Congress

Posted at 7:05 PM, Sep 10, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-10 19:05:57-04

Members of a Senate committee today asked if a military-surplus program that stocks police with battlefield gear has gone overboard.

The surplus program has armed thousands of police departments large and small with M-16 machine guns, battle gear, grenade launchers, airplanes and helicopters, even mine-resistant trucks, all at no charge. The "1033 program" as it is called has come under scrutiny since police in Ferguson, Mo., faced protestors upset about an officer's shooting of an unarmed black man. Some officers showed up on armored vehicles and wearing military battle gear.

More than 300 M-16 machine guns and even two mine-resistant trucks called "MRAPs" have flowed into Hampton Roads police departments in the past 10 years, according to a NewsChannel 3 investigation. Today senators questioned the purpose of the program.

"Tell me, how do they decide an MRAP is appropriate for a community of my hometown of 35,000 people?" asked Republican Sen. Tom Coburn.

The Defense Department's Alan Estevez spared with Coburn, saying the MRAP was nothing more than a big truck.

"No, it's not a truck, it's a 48,000 pound offensive weapon," Coburn said.

"It's not an offensive weapon," Estevez said, noting the Defense Department strips off the 50-caliber machine gun before donating the trucks to police. "It's a protective vehicle."

Several members of Congress have proposed either changes to the program, or its elimination.