Are Federal Funds Fueling the Riots in Ferguson?

Posted: Aug 14, 2014 12:35 PM

If you've been following the rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, at all, you've already seen this truck multiple times:

It is a Lenco BearCat which is actually just an acronym for Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck. They retail for anywhere between $200,000 to $300,000.

So how did the St. Louis County Police Department (which is helping the much smaller Ferguson Police Department) get their hands on such an expensive piece of equipment?

If you guessed the federal government was involved, you are correct.

There are two possible ways the federal government could have helped the St. Louis County Police Department get the BearCat.

First, as suggested by David Mastio of USA Today, St. Louis County could have gotten the vehicle through the Department of Defense's 1033 program:

Since the creation of the 1033 program by Congress in the early 1990s, the program has distributed $4.3 billion of excess equipment, ranging from innocuous office supplies to bomb-disposing robots and other advanced technology. The flood of military supplies — along with the continuing drug war and grant programs from other federal agencies that provide military-style equipment — has pushed the culture of police forces far from its law-enforcement roots.

A second possibility is the Department of Homeland Security's Homeland Security Grant Program, which has been helping local law enforcement agencies like the St. Louis County Police Department acquire big ticket tactical vehicles like the BearCat for years.

Above is a picture of current St. Louis County Police Department Chief Jon Belmar (who was commanding officer for the department's division of special operations before he became chief) standing in front of a BearCat with the St. Louis County Police Department logo. The accompanying story reports:

A grant from the Department of Homeland Security has allowed the St. Louis County Police Department to equip its Tactical Operations Unit with a new specialized equipment truck and an armored vehicle.

The two vehicles will help the unit’s SWAT team respond more effectively and efficiently to various kinds of threats, from “active shooters” to a biological terrorist attack. Bureau of Patrol Support Commander Capt. John(sic) Belmar said the $240,000 equipment truck and $360,000 armored vehicle were paid for entirely by the grant, but the money was not easy to come by.

“We were pretty stoked about it,” he said. “It is a lot of hard work to not only apply for [the grant] but to be in the position to accept it.”

A story from the same time corroborates the Patch story:

The St. Louis County Police Department has acquired a new armored vehicle, a tactical vehicle, and a helicopter for use during major disasters, criminal incidents, and possible acts of terrorism. The department acquired a LENCO BearCat, a Tactical Support Vehicle, and an MD500E Model Jet Turbine Helicopter.

The BearCat features an elevated, protected platform that can place police officers onto the second story of a building or onto the outer door of a plane. It also comes equipped with chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) detection sensors.

The Tactical Support Vehicle, which was funded via the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), is designed to hold tactical equipment. It also comes with a computer and communications equipment that enable it to act as a command post.

The UASI program is just one of many ineffective federal safety grant programs that U.S. taxpayers are wasting billions on every year.

House Republicans have repeatedly try to cut both the Department of Justice's ineffective COPS program and the equally ineffective Department of Homeland Security fire grant programs.

But Democrats have successfully defeated these spending cuts every time, demonizing Republicans for wanting to cut "vital" security spending.

If Americans want to begin right-sizing both federal spending and their local police forces, cutting federal grants to local governments would be a perfect place to start.

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