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As in Ferguson, W.Va. police get military gear

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The McDowell County Sheriff’s Department hasn’t had to use its MRAP, a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle designed for military use, since it acquired it several months ago, according to Sheriff Martin West.

But because it was loaned for free from the Department of Defense, West said, he couldn’t turn it down.

“It’s pretty awesome if you see it,” he said. “You can go about anywhere, even through high waters. It’s so big. It weighs 4-6 tons.”

The MRAP is one of nearly 2,000 pieces of military equipment and supplies police agencies in West Virginia have received since 2006 as part of a Department of Defense program to transfer surplus military equipment to police agencies, according to a New York Times report.

Items loaned range from flashlights and gym equipment to grenade launchers, which were sent to Cabell and Berkeley counties, and assault rifles.

More than 500 firearms were transferred to West Virginia as part of the program since 2006.

In 2013 alone, about $450 million worth of property was transferred to law enforcement nationwide.

The program has drawn scrutiny recently after police in riot gear met protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, with tear gas and armored trucks.

The activists in Ferguson have been protesting the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man who was shot to death by a white police officer.

West said the MRAP could be used to rescue or send supplies during flooding or during drug busts.

“When you deal with a county that’s got a lot of drugs, you never know what you’re going to face,” he said. “If it’s a bigger situation and we want to take it, we have it available. We don’t parade up and down the road and try to terrorize anyone or put fear into them. We are the police, and we’re the ones that want to keep peace, but you never know what you’re going to face when you’re dealing with criminals.”

West said a coal company donated the funds to have the MRAP hauled in.

“I don’t think it sends the message that we’re against the public,” he said. “We’re against crime. Our main objective is to stop crime and be fair and do an honest day’s work . . . . Sometimes, things happen like they did in Ferguson and it gives everyone a bad name, but every situation is different.”

The Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department obtained three semi-automatic rifles and three shotguns through the program, and a relatively weakly armored military base-security vehicle built in the 1970s through the state surplus system…

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