Are Toledo Police Over Militarized?

. December 6, 2017.
Photo by Kelli Miller
Photo by Kelli Miller

We are standing outside near Toledo Police headquarters on a sunny day admiring a BearCat, Toledo Police Department’s (TPD) sturdy and imposing armored vehicle that it uses primarily for barricade situations.  “We may have on average about 15 barricade situations a year,” says Sergeant Kevan Toney, TPD’s public information officer. “That’s when something like this is going to be brought out. You have someone inside a house, maybe they’re threatening another person, or threatening suicide, and they have locked themselves in the house. They might be shooting outside of the house; it’s a very delicate tactical circumstance.”

TPD’s public information officer, Sergeant Kevan Toney.

TPD’s public information officer, Sergeant Kevan Toney.

In 2009 TPD purchased the BearCat, made specifically for law enforcement by Lenco Armored Vehicles, with a grant from the Department of Homeland Security at a cost of $240,000.  The armored vehicle can carry up to 10
police officers. “With something like [the BearCat] you can use it as cover to get up to the house,” Toney contin
ues. “This bar on the side can be put on the front of the BearCat and you can push open a door or a window— and then throw a phone for our negotiators to talk [to the perpetrator]. Paramount is the safety of everyone—vehicles like this help us in those situations— it could [prevent a situation] from going to deadly force.”  TPD makes its BearCat available to all law enforcement agencies in Northwest Ohio.

SWAT Team members in full gear with the BearCat, purchased in 2009.

SWAT Team members in full gear with the BearCat, purchased in 2009.

Police going military?

The militarization of police came to the fore as an issue in 2014 during the police response to protest riots in Ferguson, Missouri, which occurred in response to the Ferguson police shooting death of  Michael Brown. Police appeared in large numbers on the streets of Ferguson decked out in camouflage attire, wearing helmets, and riding in armored vehicles— presenting a militarized presence.

After this display, then-President Obama signed an executive order creating a working group to review military hand-me-downs to police departments. Obama, according to the working group’s recommendations, then put restrictions on what is called the 1033 program— a federal program allowing the U.S. Military to provide police departments with surplus equipment— requiring police departments to return certain types of equipment to the military. Now, President Trump has fully reopened the faucet of the 1033 program with executive order 13809, titled: “Restoring State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement’s Access to Life-Saving Equipment and Resources.”

According to the Defense Logistics Agency, the 1033 program began in 1990 with a law passed by Congress authorizing the military to provide police departments with surplus military equipment to be used exclusively in drug war operations. In 1997, Congress passed a law allowing police to use the equipment in any arrest and apprehension mission. More than 8,000 federal and state law enforcement agencies participate in the 1033 program.

Under President Obama’s restrictions, police departments had to return certain equipment, including tracked armored vehicles, grenade launchers, weaponized aircraft, bayonets, and guns firing high-caliber ammunition, to the military. Now, President Trump’s Order authorizes police departments to again  make use of this type, and other kinds, of military equipment.

n 2005, an M113A2 Armored Personnel Carrier was loaned to TPD. Despite never being employed, the Vietnam War-era armored tank was returned to the federal government in 2016 after an executive order issued by President Barack Obama.

In 2005, an M113A2 Armored Personnel Carrier was loaned to TPD.
Despite never being employed, the Vietnam War-era armored tank was returned to the federal government in 2016 after an executive order issued by President Barack Obama.

Toledo Police equipment

In Toledo Police’s case, it returned an armored personnel carrier— the M113A2.  The vehicle does look almost like a tank. However, according to Toney, “It was never deployed.”  Toledo Police never used it.

Toledo Police does currently make use of 150 M-16 rifles it obtained under the 1033 program. The rifles have been modified to function only as semi-automatic weapons and shoot a smaller .223 caliber bullet. “It’s a national trend that most departments now have rifles,” says Toney. “The rifle has greater precision, so if you’re in a tactical situation where a longer, precise shot is necessary, the rifle is the tool for that. More precise than the shotgun, more precise than your pistol at distances.”

Obtaining these rifles without charge from the military, “saved the city tens of thousands of dollars, close to $100,000,” says Toney  The program also offered helmets, clothing, and night vision goggles — equipment that Toney explains, TPD didn’t request.

What tools are necessary?

City Councilman Larry Sykes expressed his concern about President Trump’s change to the 1033 program in a press release in August. “I was alarmed by today’s news that the President of the United States has lifted the ban on providing certain surplus military equipment to police departments,” Sykes wrote. “I have communicated my concerns to Chief of Police Kral about the City of Toledo acquiring equipment which by design is not appropriate for use in the civilian policing environment.”

However, Councilman Sykes finds TPD’s armored BearCat an appropriate vehicle for TPD. “I’m talking about tanks and anything like that,” he said by phone. The M-16s he’s fine with, too. “When we have gang members out there with AK-47s, yes, you cannot have gang members out-gunning your police officers. How do you respond to something like that if you do not have high-powered weapons?”   

Speaking out against police militarization is Jocelyn Rosnick, assistant policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Ohio branch.

Speaking out against police militarization is Jocelyn Rosnick, assistant policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Ohio branch.

“Our cities are not war zones. There are very few situations where it would make sense to bring out tanks or grenade launchers,” says Jocelyn Rosnick, assistant policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Ohio branch. The ACLU-authored report War “Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Police” begins, “…a trend we have been noticing nationwide: American policing has become unnecessarily and dangerously militarized, in large part through federal programs…” such as the 1033 program. The ACLU also is encouraging people to write the Department of Defense asking to stop the 1033 program. “Military policing is not effective policing,” adds Rosnick. “It can actually increase tension. This type of [military] equipment can chill people’s right to protest peacefully, and hinder community policing. We are advocating putting the focus elsewhere, when it really should be on improving police-community relations.” 

Michael Leonardi, a member of CSRN, an organization supporting Black Lives Matter.

Michael Leonardi, a member of CSRN, an organization supporting Black Lives Matter.

“We want to end the 1033 program completely. We oppose any militarization of police departments,” said Michael Leonardi, a member of the Community Solidarity Response Network (CSRN), an organization that “has been carrying the torch of the Black Lives Matter movement locally,” since 2014, after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. CSRN brings “awareness to the injustices experienced by black men, women and children who are disproportionately murdered, attacked, provoked and harassed by law enforcement,” and has adopted much of the platform of Campaign Zero, a national organization working to end police violence in America. CSRN sponsored a discussion between Toledo mayoral candidates at the Frederick Douglass Community Center in September and opposes recent cooperation between the U.S. Justice Department and the City of Toledo to combat violent crime.

Is TPD’s BearCat appropriate for policing?

“Unless it was being used in an emergency SWAT situation where there is imminent threat to life, we would be opposed to the use of any armored vehicles for patrolling our neighborhoods,” added Leonardi. He also found TPD’s M-16 rifles “very excessive.”

According to Sergeant Toney, TPD last used the BearCat with a SWAT team September 1, during an incident in South Toledo on Toronto Avenue near Highland Park, where a woman’s boyfriend held a gun to her head, according to the police report. TPD apprehended the suspect without any exchange of gunfire. 

Local opinions on lifting the 1033 ban

Toledo Police Chief George Kral “has made it clear that he doesn’t have any interest in acquiring any large ticket item,” says Toney, noting that, in the past, helicopters have been offered. “The chief doesn’t have any plans to utilize the program, since the restrictions have been lifted— but that’s not saying that we wouldn’t consider it in the future.”

Toledo Police Command Officer’s Association, a local union of TPD officers, declined to comment on the use of military equipment in the department.

For now, police departments will again have access to surplus military equipment. The future will tell how the 1033 program impacts policing in the Toledo area and nationwide.

Sources: Congressional Research Service
and Newsweek, “How America’s Police Became an Army”.

Military Equipment offered to police departments under the 1033 program

Handcuffs
Riot shields
Holsters
Night Vision Goggles
Helmets
Clothing
Robots for explosive devices
Land vehicles, tactical armored vehicles, watercraft, and aircraft (helicopters)
Weapons— rifles, pistols
Grenade launchers
Binoculars
Digital cameras
Office furniture
Office equipment
Household goods— including kitchen equipment
Exercise equipment
Portable electric generators

  • Mike

    Don’t you love when people have so much to say on matters they know so little about