Local police departments look into military surplus equipment use

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The Chapel Hill Police Department participates in the NC LESS lending program. Through this program, the department acquired an armored truck (Stephanie Lopez)

President Obama announced Monday that some surplus military equipment will not be allowed for local law enforcement use, but there are still millions of dollars' worth of the equipment in North Carolina.

"We're going to prohibit some equipment made for the battlefield that is not appropriate for local police departments," President Obama said in speech in Camden, N.J.

According to the Defense Logistics Agency, North Carolina has almost $15 million worth of surplus military equipment available to law enforcement through the North Carolina Law Enforcement Selection Services program as of March 2015.

The Chapel Hill Police Department participates in the NC LESS lending program. Through this program, the department acquired an armored truck, a 1985 Chrysler Peacekeeper.

"We got it as a rescue vehicle so if there's a mass shooting event or some sort of mass casualty event where we need to put something between us and a threat to rescue people," Lt. Josh Mecimore said.

"In the years that I've been around here, we've not had any incident like that, but we have, many years ago, on Henderson Street, had an incident where a person began shooting innocent bystanders," Mecimore said.

A UNC law student, Wendell Williamson, took to the streets of Chapel Hill in 1995 killing two passers-by with a semi-automatic rifle.

"I hope people will find peace of mind in the fact that we are prepared for that and that we're not rolling it out for just random situations," Mecimore said. "I would rather stand up here every day to answer why we need to have it ahead of time than to have people criticize that we didn't have something to serve that purpose, if something bad happened."

Another police department in North Carolina chose to give back their military vehicle.

The Siler City Police Department opted out of the NC LESS program, giving back their 1985 AM General Humvee, a truck designed to withstand the blast of a land mine.

"All law enforcement has been affected by Ferguson and Baltimore. So we go in and we look at that and we evaluated our system," said Major C.H. "Shorty" Johnson, with the Siler City Police Department.

"I guess, some equipment works better for them, or for them to be involved in, but for us, as an agency, we decided it wasn't feasible," he said.

While the department was given a mine-resistant vehicle, the program also provided them with non-tactile equipment, like desks.

"It's very useful as far as law enforcement on a small scale, as far as local or state," Johnson explained.

He says Siler City is still prepared for worst-case scenarios with riot gear and gas masks, which the department had to pay for.

"You don't know when a peaceful rally may turn disruptive, may turn deadly," Johnson said.

While police have to be prepared, he says they don't have to be polarizing.

"It comes down to a balance and us just trying to find that balance with the public," Johnson said.

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