Maine police defend use of military-grade equipment

SANFORD, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri over the shooting death of a black teenager by a white police officer is putting the issue of the militarizing local law enforcement into the spotlight.

For nearly two weeks, protests and riots erupted in Ferguson over the death of Michael Brown. Police in Ferguson were seen using armored tanks and heavy weapons to control the crowds. According to the Institute for Public Accuracy, the Pentagon is passing military-grade weapons and equipment worth billions to local law enforcement agencies. Now President Obama is asking for a review of these programs, to see whether all the force is really needed.

Several law enforcement agencies in Maine have benefited from those programs, receiving armored tanks. The Sanford Police Department has a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected tank, also knows as an MRAP. Chief Thomas Connolly applied for the vehicle because Sanford has a regional SWAT team. Like many agencies across the country, Sanford got the tank for free because the military didn't need it anymore. They say they will only use it when absolutely necessary.

"Perhaps some people may look at it and say, 'Wow, that's overkill,'" Connolly said. "But if I have somebody inside a building who is armed and violent, and the potential is my officers who have to do something now may be injured, then we are going to use every advantage that we can."

But the ACLU of Maine says just because police in Maine haven't used military equipment to control crowds like they have in Ferguson, it doesn't mean they won't.

"When the equipment is here, we certainly have the capacity," spokesperson Rachel Healey said. "If you put a police officer in a tank, he or she is going to start thinking of herself or himself as a soldier, and they're not soldiers. They're not trained to be soldiers."

The ACLU is calling on lawmakers to pass legislation to regulate the use of military equipment by police.


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