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Bill Blocking Police Use of Military Equipment Moves to House of Delegates

AP Photo / Haraz N. Ghanbari

The Virginia Senate has approved a landmark bill approving policing reform. The vote came after a debate over the use of military equipment.

Surplus military equipment is available to police departments and sheriff’s offices across the country for free from the Pentagon. But concerns about the militarization of law enforcement agencies are raising new questions about whether police officers and sheriff’s deputies need military-grade rifles and ammunition and camouflage uniforms. 

“Virginia Beach; we have flooding issues. We have an MRAP, which was provided by the military,” explains Republican Senator Bill DeSteph of Virginia Beach. He’s talking about a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle – the kind used in Iraq. And he says law enforcement agencies need those kinds of vehicles to help during flooding. 

“I don’t want to leave people stranded in Sandbridge or stranded in areas of our community when we have the opportunity to get the equipment; not just get the equipment, but get it for free from the federal government,” says DeSteph.

Senator Mamie Locke is a Democrat from Hampton. She introduced the bill on policing reform, and she says the issue about flooding DeSteph raised is a red herring. 

“We know for sure that we’re not talking about weather related issues when it comes to military equipment, when it comes to law enforcement agencies in dealing with communities," she says. "That’s not what we are talking about here, and we all in this room know it.”

The Senate passed Locke’s bill on a party-line vote, sending it over to the House which is considering about a dozen bills on policing reform.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.