Utah police get seriously armed at serious costs

Recently, the Salt Lake Tribune published a front-page story outlining the acquisition by Utah police departments of vast quantities of military equipment, particularly assault rifles and armored personnel carriers.

This acquisition of military equipment is part of a long and pervasive trend of militarizing police departments across the country and Utah, but Utah’s police departments are not engaged in war. Once equipment such as this is obtained, it creates pressure to use these deadly weapons to justify their acquisition.

SWAT teams were only invented about 40 years ago, but they are now ubiquitous. There are myriad examples of SWAT teams blowing away by-standers and innocents mistaken as suspects, not to mention using excess deadly force against legitimate suspects.

Giving away equipment such as grenade launchers and armored vehicles raises the question of why this is being done in the first place. Even if there are slightly newer or better versions of this expensive equipment available, can we afford to turn over the military’s equipment so rapidly?

This movement to greater militarization of our police force appears to be yet another manifestation of the military industrial complex. Once Utah’s police departments obtain these weapons, they have to use their own scarce funds to maintain them, and they become subject to being lost or stolen (the Tribune story uncovered a missing assault rifle).

The safety of Utah’s police officers is of course highly important. But all of us face risks. We all assume risk each time we drive a car. How many times have there been circumstances when a police officer’s life would have been saved if there had only been a 14-ton, mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored vehicle at the ready? I doubt there have been many.

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