Dundee police have a mine-resistant ambush vehicle. Barry County has not one, but five, grenade launchers.
Since 2006, 128,000 military surplus items worth about $43 million have been transferred to Michigan police departments, Christina Hall reported in Sunday's Free Press, through a federal program that started in 1997.
Hall uncovered just how much military-grade equipment has found a home in Michigan. Included in the tally are 17 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs), 1,795 M16 rifles, 696 M14 rifles, 530 bayonet and scabbards and nine grenade launchers.
"Police say they need military-grade weapons to counter heavily armed drug dealers, mass shooters and terrorists," Hall wrote. "Armored vehicles can be used against barricaded gunmen, to evacuate citizens in emergencies or to quell riots, while high-powered, automatic rifles keep police from being outgunned by bad guys."
But to make that case for civilian use of equipment designed for war, law enforcement agencies owe residents answers:
It's a reasonable set of questions, and one that police departments around the state should be prepared to answer.
The militarization of American police has become the subject of intense debate as unrest continues in Ferguson, Mo., where an unarmed black teenager was fatally shot by a police officer about three weeks ago. Ferguson residents took to the streets, and were confronted by police in armored vehicles, clad in camouflage and body armor, and armed with high-powered rifles.
The use of such equipment, that kind of escalation of force, has been widely perceived as an exacerbating factor in the ongoing violence in Ferguson, a town of 21,000.
An American Civil Liberties Union report about the militarization of American police, focusing on SWAT team deployment, found that information and record-keeping was spotty. Departments didn't display any kind of uniform standards for tracking when and how SWAT teams (often users of military equipment) were deployed, and only one state - Maryland - requires that kind of oversight.
Records delivered to the ACLU by police departments indicated that among departments nationally that responded to the organization's records request, 79 percent of SWAT team deployments were for search warrants.
There's no question that a SWAT deployment is sometimes the appropriate response, or that use of military-style equipment keeps officers safe. Large police agencies (such as Detroit's) conduct the kind of raids and enforcement that require special weapons and equipment and highly trained SWAT personnel.
But it's hard to make the case that small cities or townships need armored vehicles, M16 rifles or grenade launchers (which could be used to fire tear gas).
In the absence of information showing the benefit of such tactics, and how and why they're used, it's hard not to feel that departments who have acquired such equipment are answering a question that might not exist.