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In the wake of days of aggressive police action responding to protests over Saturday’s fatal shooting by a police officer of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo., many observers have decried what’s being called the militarization local police departments.

Fed by a stream of surplus military equipment left over from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many local departments have been taking advantage of federal programs that let them acquire the surplus military gear at no cost.

The New York Times reports the practice is widespread across the nation, and WLS-TV in Chicago found a lot of surplus military gear flowing to police agencies in Illinois. 

Even libertarian-leaning Republican Sen. Rand Paul, writing in Time, called for demilitarizing the police.

Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington says his department hasn’t acquired any MRAPs or other surplus military vehicles.

“And we’re pretty transparent about what we do have,” Eddington told Evanston Now, pointing to the news conference the department held last year to show off the old Brinks truck it had turned into what was billed as an “armored surveillance vehicle” equipped with a half-dozen cameras with remote monitoring capability.

Evanston’s converted Brinks truck equipped with surveillance cameras.

Eddington says the truck has proved popular with residents of neighborhoods that have suffered from shootings and other violent incidents, with residents asking officers to keep parking it on their block.

The chief says the department has acquired some military surplus automatic rifles, but that those are only used for training purposes and not assigned to officers on duty on the street.

Eddington says the department rarely has to deal with incidents of threatened civil disorder — most recently called upon to assist at the NATO-G8 Summit in Chicago in 2012.

But Evanston does participate in the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System, an alliance of nearly 100 suburban police departments.

And some of those departments do have armored vehicles, either from private suppliers or the military surplus.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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5 Comments

  1. Cop a Feel?

    Does anyone know if Evanston PD is still enforcing the "stop and frisk" policy that was announced via email on June 13, 2013?

    1. Response to Cop A Feel

      One would assume so. Their "policy" does not really differ or show any real variation from textbook Terry Stops which are taught to police recruits across the country. The only unique thing about Evanston's use of it was that they were not afraid to discuss it on television. Police are not going to stop doing weapons checks on people they come in contact with and they shouldn't.

  2. On the list

    Nevertheless, the Evanston Police department is on the list of potential military "equipment transfer" recipient.

    1. Since when does accepting

      Since when does accepting hand me down equipment from the government equal militarization? Usually local governments love to display what services or material they received in exchange for low taxe revenue expenditures. The military is getting rid of stuff and they give it to police departments and we complain. Military style uniforms and hand me downs don't mean militarization. Are there better vehicles and clothing suited for people to train and prepare for being shot at one day?

  3. Yes, it is warranted

    Now that things have calmed down in Ferguson; I do think these assets are warranted. Perhaps not for every community, but maybe for specific counties who can allocate these assets where and when needed. Why? Look at Ferguson. Instead of focusing on the tragedy, take a moment to look at the aftermath; the rioting, looting, the mob action/mentality and the destruction of private and public property…not to mention putting ordinary citizens in harms way. So, yes, for this reason, these assets are needed. And warranted. Simple.

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