POLITICS
08/19/2014 06:23 pm ET Updated Aug 19, 2014

Chuck Hagel Has Authority To Halt Defense Program That Arms Police, Report Says

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel could halt a program that sends surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies, The Hill reported Tuesday.

A Pentagon spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said the Defense Department has not made any decision to suspend the program -- but that Hagel ultimately has the authority to do so.

The federal government has also provided grants to local police departments that have allowed them to buy billions of dollars' worth of military equipment. Critics say the policy has contributed to increasingly militarized police forces around the country.

The protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in response to the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown have been met by a police force fully equipped with tear gas, tactical body armor and Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles often used in war zones.

Kirby said the Pentagon has provided the Ferguson Police Department with three vehicles and a generator under the program. It has also provided the St. Louis County Police Department with gear, including a helicopter and rifles.

While several lawmakers have recently advocated for police demilitarization, Congress has been hesitant to scale back the defense program. The House voted down an amendment in June that would have blocked funding for some types of equipment.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will review the matter when it considers the Defense Department's next budget bill, Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said last week.

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