Senate Armed Services chief to review Pentagon program arming cops

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee intends to review a Pentagon program that transfers surplus military equipment to police agencies, following the use of controversial police tactics in Ferguson, Mo.

"Before the defense authorization bill comes to the Senate floor, we will review this program to determine if equipment provided by the Defense Department is being used as intended," Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said in a statement Friday. 

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“Congress established this program out of real concern that local law enforcement agencies were literally outgunned by drug criminals," he added. 

"We intended this equipment to keep police officers and their communities safe from heavily armed drug gangs and terrorist incidents.”

Levin’s move comes after police officers in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, used military vehicles and equipment acquired by the Pentagon to quell protests following the shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old black teenager.

Images of police riding atop armed-personnel carriers and mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles (MRAPs), and dressed in camouflage, led critics on both the left and the right to press lawmakers to end the Pentagon program.

Civil libertarians have warned that the program risks “militarizing” local police forces. During the riots, two reporters covering the events were detained, further fueling anger over the police force’s alleged heavy-handed response.

But police groups have defended the transfers, saying that local law enforcement officials need the military gear and equipment.