In the wake of a riot-squad crackdown on protests in Ferguson, Mo., much of the national discussion has turned to how local police departments started looking like combat troops.
The New York Times has an answer: Police are militarized because the federal government gives away its used military gear.
The Times last today released an interactive U.S. map showing how "nearly 400 local police departments and more than 100 state agencies had bought such less-lethal weapons using Justice Department grant money."
Oregon got its share of the arsenal.
Since 2006, law-enforcement agencies in Clackmas County alone have, thanks to the Defense and Justice Departments, received 90 assault rifles, 20 pistols, 12 pieces of night-vision equipment and four armored vehicles. Two of those are Mine-Resistant Ambush Protection vehicles—or MRAPs.
Police in the Portland area haven't been armed quite as heavily: Multnomah County law-enforcement agencies have obtained 88 assault rifles from the feds since 2006, the Times reports. (UPDATE, 9:10 pm: The Times map doesn't dial down to which agencies got which pieces of military hardware. The Oregonian, which published a similar list Thursday, reports that federal documents don't list which Clackamas County law enforcement received the $586,000 armored vehicles.)
The Ferguson violence has led to a call from elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), to demilitarize local police. But as Times reporters Julie Bosman and Matt Apuzzo note, this outcry comes only after a selling spree:
But such opposition amounts to a sharp change in tone in Washington, where the federal government has spent more than a decade paying for body armor, mine-resistant trucks and other military gear, all while putting few restrictions on its use. Grant programs that, in the name of fighting terrorism, paid for some of the equipment being used in Ferguson have been consistently popular since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. If there has been any debate at all, it was over which departments deserved the most money.