Transfer of Military Gear to Local Officials

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BAY COUNTY-- Since the Ferguson violence began, a lot of people have been questioning the amount of surplus military equipment in the hands of American police officers. NewsChannel 7 asked local police, who've received a fair amount of military hardware over the years through a Department of Defense program.

Under the Pentagon's Excess Property Program, local law enforcement agencies can buy surplus military equipment at rock-bottom prices.

On Tuesday during a press conference, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said, "This is a program legislated by Congress which allows the Secretary to transfer some excess military property to local law enforcements." However, the program is coming under fire in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting in Missouri.

The New York Times says the Pentagon has transferred tens of thousands of AR-15 and M-16 machine guns under the Obama Administration, nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines, hundreds of silencers, camouflage uniforms, night-vision equipment, even armored cars and aircraft.

Law enforcement agencies in Bay County have received 77 assault riffles, 3 pistols, 1 shotgun 3 helicopters, one night vision tool, and one armed vehicle.

The Bay County Sheriff's Office wound-up with most of the equipment. They declined our request for an interview.

Walton County Sheriff's officials have a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected, or MRAP, vehicle. Okaloosa County Sheriff's officials have a Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck, or BEARCAT.

Most departments generally say they use the equipment for controlling aggressive crowds or SWAT operations. "How and when and where, under what circumstances the equipment gets used is up to local law enforcement agencies to speak to," Kirby said.

Some local agencies say they aren't carrying much of that type of hardware.

Lynn Haven Police Department has five M-16's issued to 5 police officers. "Those are for long range gun situations, that are not for riot situations," Lynn Haven Police Chief David Messer said.

"We don't have military weaponry, we have assault type riffles. Obviously we have policies and procedures of when those can be used and when they can't be used. Our policies and procedures are our best defense," Panama City Police Department Officer Richard Thore.

If they encounter a need for military hardware, they say they'll turn to departments that already have it.

"We have mutual aid with the different local agencies and the Sheriff's Department and the FDLE. You know everybody would be involved, Highway Patrol," Messer said. "We are going to reach out to the local law enforcement agencies around us, if it got that big obviously the state would get involved. We never...use force unless force is used against us," Thore added.