After a decade of sending military equipment to civilian police departments across the country, federal officials are reconsidering the idea in light of the violence in Ferguson, Missouri.
The public has absorbed images of heavily armed police, snipers trained on protesters and tear gas plumes. Against that backdrop, Attorney General Eric Holder said that when police and citizens need to restore calm, "I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message."
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said police responses like that in Ferguson have "become the problem instead of the solution." Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said he will introduce legislation to reverse police militarization.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said his committee will review the program to determine if the Defense Department's surplus equipment is being used as intended.
One night after the violence that accompanied the presence of military-style equipment in Ferguson, tensions eased when a police captain, unprotected and shaking hands, walked through a crowd in a gesture of reconciliation. The contrast added to perception that the tanks and tear gas had done more harm than good.
As the country concludes its longest wartime period, the military has turned over thousands of surplus weapons and armored trucks to local police who often trained alongside the military.
A report by the American Civil Liberties Union in June said police agencies had become "excessively militarized," with officers using training and equipment designed for the battlefield on city streets. The report found the amount of goods transferred through the military surplus program rose from $1 million in 1990 to nearly $450 million in 2013.