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Arizona keeping pace with some countries’ militaries in terms of gear

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WASHINGTON – Arizona state agencies have received enough military equipment from the Department of Defense’s program 1033 to outfit a small country, and have more armored vehicles and military helicopters than 20 of them.

Police and other agencies in the state had 29 armored personnel carriers and nine military helicopters, according to inventories taken within the past year for program 1033, one of the Pentagon’s surplus equipment programs.

Libya, a country with roughly the same population as Arizona, had 11 APCs and 12 helicopters in 2014, according to the annual report of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

It was one of six countries with more helicopters but fewer APCs than Arizona. Another 20 countries had fewer of both.

“Our local communities are not combat war zones, and yet that’s exactly how these programs are incentivized,” said Alessandra Soler, executive director for the Phoenix chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The national ACLU has criticized federal programs that allocate surplus military equipment to police departments and other local agencies, and has specifically called out Arizona.

But others defend the program as necessary in a post-9/11 world and cost-efficient for taxpayers.

“I see nothing wrong with it. Frankly, I see it as very beneficial,” said Joe Clure, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association.

“This whole militarization of police departments is just a sign of the times,” said Clure, adding that criminals have access to military-style equipment and the police should, too.

Clure questioned whether Arizona can be compared to foreign countries, noting that the state has different needs than they do. He pointed to the 9/11 terrorist attacks as another justification for police militarization.

“When you need a tool – especially in this post-terrorist world – if and when those attacks come to the country, the police are going to need to use those tools to protect people,” he said.

Soler agrees that Arizona has received as much equipment as it has – including as many military helicopters as Costa Rica and Latvia combined – because of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“What we saw after 9/11 was a dramatic increase for the federal funding for these military weapons at the local level,” she said.

And Arizona has taken advantage. In addition to APC’s and helicopters, the state has received almost 800 M-16 automatic rifles, more than 400 bayonets and more than 700 night-vision goggles under program 1033. In a June report by the ACLU on police militarization, it said Arizona’s armaments should be a “serious cause for concern.”

Mike O’Hanlon, director of research for the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, voiced similar concerns. In an email, he said large military equipment – like APCs – is not appropriate for police due to a number of reasons.

“They are too big and unwieldy and expensive to operate and maintain, separate the police from the people they are supposed to be protecting, and risk creating a garrison mentality,” his email said.

Kara Dansky, senior counsel for the ACLU and author of the June report, agrees with Clure that comparing Arizona’s military strength to that of an entire country is difficult, but for different reasons. Where Clure sees a possible need for police to have military equipment, Dansky sees an inappropriate blending of roles.

“Law enforcement and the military have very different missions, and it’s important to preserve the distinction of those missions in our society,” she said.

Dansky said her report found that instead of reserving the equipment for life-or-death emergencies, agencies were using it to “conduct everyday, ordinary law enforcement,” such as serving warrants in a search for drugs.

But Clure said that as long as the equipment is utilized properly, it can be very beneficial. That foreign countries are not as heavily equipped simply means they don’t face the same threats, he said.

“What is the likelihood that Jamaica is a terrorist target – are they going to blow up a reggae band?” said Clure.