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GOP lawmakers oppose Obama recall of military vehicles

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Six House Republican lawmakers from Michigan wrote Monday to President Barack Obama, objecting to his decision forcing local law-enforcement agencies to return armored tanks and other gear they’d received as surplus equipment from the federal government.

The equipment recall follows an executive order from Obama earlier this year in response to riots in Ferguson, Missouri, when officers responded in military-grade gear and vehicles, raising concerns about the “militarization” of police departments by the Democratic administration.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, a Democrat and former county sheriff, launched a blistering criticism of the move during his Thursday State of the County speech because the county’s armored personnel carrier is part of the presidential recall. The military equipment was given out during Republican President George W. Bush’s administration.

“It’s not about image. It’s about ensuring the safety of the people who ensure our safety,” Hackel said during his speech on the day the San Bernardino, California, terrorism attack killed 14 and injured 21. “If an act of terrorism or if there is an active shooter in a mall or a school, it is not the military who responds. It’s local law enforcement who are the first responders.”

“Well, Mr. President, if you want to want to make our first responders safer, first thing tomorrow morning, rescind that order.”

Rep. Dave Trott, R-Birmingham, who headed the congressional letter-writing effort, said the president is making it more challenging for budget-strapped authorities to respond to a potentially deadly attack in their communities.

Trott’s letter — signed by Reps. Fred Upton of St. Joseph; Candice Miller of Harrison Township; Bill Huizenga of Zeeland; Mike Bishop of Rochester; and John Moolenaar of Midland — urges Obama to rescind his order placing limits on the 1033 Program that transfers surplus military equipment to domestic police agencies.

The lawmakers noted as an example the police response to the perpetrators in last week’s attack in San Bernardino, where SWAT teams used heavily armored vehicles in a shootout with the assailants.

“As we learned in the attack in San Bernardino, California, local police and emergency personnel are on the front lines of this new phase in the terrorists’ war against us,” the lawmakers wrote.

“As you pointed out before the attack, the U.S. intelligence community had identified ‘no credible threat,’ which means that the two terrorists who pulled off the assault did so while operating under the radar. In such circumstances, local police will almost always be the first responders, and should be equipped accordingly.”

The Republicans said the tracked armored vehicle is of particular use to state and local authorities in Michigan, where it’s used in rescue and response situations and “employed in a responsible manner — only coming out when absolutely necessary.”

“We caution you to avoid penalizing every state and local law enforcement agency in the country for the bad acts of a few,” they wrote.

In May, the Obama administration said it would no longer fund or transfer eight categories of military gear and equipment to local law enforcement, and that it was looking into recalling prohibited equipment that was already distributed. The equipment list included tracked armored vehicles, grenade launchers, bayonet knives and armed aircraft.

mburke@detroitnews.com

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