Rifles and armored vehicles used by police in Ferguson, Missouri in recent days have drawn attention to a Department of Defense program that distributes military surplus equipment to local law enforcement.
Here in Minnesota, police have received thousands of pieces of military equipment through that program in recent years.
In fact, Joe Kelly — who coordinates the program on the state level — said, to his knowledge, all requests made by Minnesota law enforcement for military equipment have been approved.
Kelly said he does not expect any changes to the management of the program on the state level, despite strong criticism emerging on both the federal and local level of police tactics in Missouri.
Kelly is deputy director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, a division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. DPS coordinates the Department of Defense program on the state level. Kelly follows federal criteria in determining eligibility of applicants to receive the equipment.
"The program is doing as it was designed. It is providing equipment that law enforcement officials say they need to do their job. We're maintaining accountability of that equipment," Kelly said. "I think if there's a discussion that comes out of what's happening in Ferguson, it's more about the activities of police departments and how they use that equipment, but that is for law enforcement professionals to answer."
Surplus equipment available through the program encompasses a wide-range of items — from desk chairs and first-aid kits, to armored vehicles to aircraft.
Law enforcement agencies must agree to certain accountability and safe-guarding rules for the equipment, Kelly said. The equipment is provided free of charge by the Department of Defense, but local agencies must pay any transport costs.
"I think that law enforcement agencies in Minnesota and their leaders are professional and responsible, and they're also answerable to the taxpayers and their citizens," Kelly said.