Editorial: Bringing a Tank To A Gun Fight
Last year Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo made national news by becoming the first municipal police department in the country to withdraw from the United Department of Defense 1033 Program - that arms local police with surplus military equipment.
"There are times when military-style equipment is essential for public safety, but they are very rare," del Pozo said at the time.
Vermont police departments never embraced the program as enthusiastically as other states did. To illustrate the point, OpenTheBooks.com released a report, earlier this year, detailing $2.2 billion in weapons transfers from the Pentagon to police, throughout the nation, since 2006. They include:
-7,091 trucks ($400.9 million); 625 mine-resistant vehicles (421.1 million); 471 helicopters ($158.3 million); 56 airplanes ($271.5 million); and 329 armored trucks and cars ($21.3 million);
-83,122 M16/M14 rifles (5.56mm and 7.62mm) ($31.2 million); 8,198 pistols (.38 and .45 caliber) ($491,769); and 1,385 riot 12-gauge shotguns ($137,265);
-18,299 night-vision sights, sniper scopes, binoculars, goggles, infrared and image magnifiers ($98.5 million); 5,518 infrared, articulated, panoramic and laser telescopes ($5.5 million);
-866 mine detecting sets, marking kits, and probes ($3.3 million); 57 grenade launchers ($41,040);
-5,638 bayonets ($307,769) and 36 swords and scabbards.
Vermont has cornered a small percentage of that arsenal - a couple hundred assault rifles and a dozen or so military humvees among them. We think that’s good, because it’s hard for us to think "peace officer" when we see police patrolling peaceful protests dressed like storm troopers.
We thought of the aforementioned report, the 1033 program, and del Pozo’s comments, as we watched a standoff unfold, Tuesday, in Newport City. As Robin Smith reported, Daniel Kelley holed up in a local motel after allegedly threatening three people with a gun. He kept police at bay for hours, as the neighborhood was evacuated, and Kelley spoke with negotiators.
It was a tense and dangerous scene, to which Vermont State Police rolled up in their mine-resistant vehicle.
Now, we concede that it’s probably better to have a tank and not need one, than it is to need a tank and not have one. And we don’t want a single member of law enforcement getting hurt in the line of duty.
Still, it’s hard to imagine a tank helping to diffuse a tense situation with a frazzled fellow teetering on the edge. And as much as we don’t like to question decisions made from the front line, it seems that an armored, mine-resistant vehicle might fall short of del Pozo’s reasonable criteria of military equipment "essential for public safety."
Having said that, we’re endlessly thankful nobody was hurt on Tuesday and commend police on the restraint and professionalism that made it so.
And we’re also happy that Vermont police have generally resisted widescale militarization available through the ill-conceived 1033 program.