McCaskill to lead hearing on militarization of police

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) on Thursday announced a Senate hearing to probe the "militarization of local police departments" after widespread criticism of tactics used in Ferguson, Mo., to quell protests. 

McCaskill said the hearing next month would focus on the Pentagon's 1033 program, which offers surplus military equipment to local law enforcement. Homeland Security grants to community departments would also be highlighted. 

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As chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs' Financial and Contracting Oversight subcommittee, McCaskill said she would invite experts from all sides, including local authorities. 

The Missouri senator has been actively involved in monitoring the protests in Ferguson following the police shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown. 

"We need to demilitarize this situation — this kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution," McCaskill said last week, criticizing images from Ferguson of heavily armed police officers pointing weapons at protesters.

After that, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) brought in the Highway Patrol to lead security. He announced the National Guard would begin withdrawing from the town, after things appeared to calm Wednesday night. 

Last week Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) used the clashes to promote legislation he will introduce in September to scale back the Pentagon program, which has received criticism from members of both parties. 

More than $4 billion in discounted military equipment, including M16s and mine resistant vehicles, has been sold to police departments since the program was started in the 1990s.

Since 2007, Ferguson has received two Humvees, a generator and a cargo trailer, according to the Pentagon. Broader St. Louis County has received three helicopters, seven Humvees, a bomb detecting robot, six pistols, 12 rifles and 15 sights for weapons. 

The Defense Department has defended the program.

"We don't take a position on the way the equipment is being used," Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said earlier this week. "That is up to local law enforcement to determine. I will tell you, though, that we have rigorous compliance and accountability standards."