Police in Columbia, South Carolina and 499 Other Cities Get "Free" Tanks
Via Benn Swann comes this charming tale of SWAT team overkill. The Columbia, South Carolina police department—along with 499 other municipalities across this sweet land of liberty—received a "free" MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle featuring bullet-proof skin and a rack capable of holidng a 50 caliber machine gun. Such vehicles cost about $658,000 but this one was gifted to the police by the Department of Defense.
Though the vehicle was "free" to the citizens of Columbia, they were purchased by taxpayer money. 500 surplus military vehicles costing $658,000 each adds up to $329 million dollars of surplus DoD spending (and therefore taxing) on vehicles which are so unnecessary to the military they are being given away to American cities. Though this wouldn't fix the debt, it is yet another multi-million dollar piece of wasteful spending by the American federal government.
The most troubling aspect of the situation, though, is the reason for obtaining such a vehicle. Another town which recently obtained federal funding for a military armored vehicle – though this one was through the Department of Homeland Security – was Concord, New Hampshire. When the ACLU and New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union submitted a public records request, they discovered that groups like the Free State Project and Occupy New Hampshire had been cited as domestic terror threats, and their presence was listed as a reason the police department needed an armored vehicle.
The vehicle came as part of the infamous "1033 program," through which Defense gets rid of excess stuff it didn't need in the first place by putting it into circulation via local police departments (it's like a gun giveaway in reverse and with tons more firepower). Read Reason on that.
And read about that horrifying Free State Project—in which a bunch of libertarians are moving to New Hampshire to influence state and local government in a small-government direction— here. Good luck finding any violent terrorists among the participants.
No journalist has done more to highlight the militarization of police than former Reason staffer Radley Balko (archive here), now at the Huffington Post (archive here). Watch this interview about his recent book Rise of the Warrior Cop.