(NaturalNews) Quietly, but steadily, there is a major military build-up occurring in police departments all over the country, and as the nation winds down its wars overseas, chances are good that even more military gear will find its way into local precincts.
Natural News has reported on this worrisome phenomenon in the past; some organizations, like the ACLU, have also been monitoring this military build-up. But as the transfers of military gear to local departments continues, coverage into the issue has been expanding.
As reported recently by NewsChannel 5 in Nashville, what is taking place with one local Tennessee department is emblematic of what is occurring all over the country.
Besides departments taking possession of massive armored vehicles once used to patrol the streets and routes in Afghanistan and Iraq, they are also being provided weapons like assault rifles and even grenade launchers, all of which have been deemed to be surplus by the Pentagon.
More like small armies
The equipment is plentiful and as such is cheap for local law enforcement agencies to purchase. Some of it is even provided free of charge.
The program has increasingly caused a stir and debate about the continued militarization of the nation's police departments.
In McMinn County, Tennessee, located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, there is beautiful scenery and a peaceful, serene countryside. But its sheriff's department is getting armed to the teeth. This year, the department has received more military surplus firearms than any other local department in the state.
"We actually reconfigured the whole armory to accommodate all of this," said Sheriff Joe Guy.
The sheriff oversees 31 officers and investigators, but his department nevertheless has received 161 army rifles and pistols, including 41 M-16s and 71 .45 caliber handguns.
When asked by NewsChannel 5 why the department needed so many weapons, Guy answered: "Well, we don't need this many. There was a little error in the order."
Guy said the U.S. Army's surplus program doubled his initial order, but nevertheless he has not yet sent the weapons back.
"They're here as our department grows," he said. "We'll have additional firearms for future officers."
McMinn County is not alone. An investigation by the local TV news station found that thousands of pieces of military equipment are going to state law enforcement agencies, much of it equipment used in fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The way this stuff is being distributed, it's kind of reckless," said author Radley Balko.
Balko is the author of Rise of the Warrior Cop, a book that raises concerns about the militarization of American police departments.
"What we've seen is just a massive transfer of gear, guns, vehicles and other weaponry," Balko told NewsCenter 5.
The process is nearly automatic. Law enforcement agencies can visit a website that is administered by the Department of Defense and shop around for used equipment. As noted by the local news station:
On the day we went to McMinn County, the department was looking for Humvees. Sheriff Guy reviewed what was available.
"It looks good," Sheriff Guy said to an employee who was looking up a vehicle on-line.
The employee responded, "It's got 14-hundred miles on it."
"How many of those did you put in for?" Sheriff Guy asked.
"Three," his employee answered.
Sheriff Guy responded, "Three of those and one truck."
'We've encouraged police to become more like the military'
Police departments are required to pay a registration fee, and then most of the equipment is free, with departments paying for transportation and all maintenance.
"The disbursement across the country is so uneven and random and sort of based on who is good at manipulating the system," Balko said.
The local news station said that 30 Tennessee departments have recently received MRAPs -- mine-resistant, ambush protected -- vehicles which were designed to protect American forces from roadside bombs.
"This is our newest armored protective vehicle," said Mike Justice with Lebanon Public Safety, adding that he hoped Lebanon police officers never use it. "The situations we would use this vehicle in is hostage negotiations, putting this vehicle between the bad guy and the good guys."
Balko is concerned.
"What we've done is encourage the police to become more like the military," Balko said. "When you surround yourself with the weapons of war, with the language of war, you're going to be much less likely to look for ways of resolving disputes using the least amount of force possible."