Albemarle Officials Join Police Militarization Debate

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Scrutiny of police tactics in Ferguson, Missouri has stirred up a lot of controversy, including questioning a national program that brings military weapons to local police departments.

Some federal lawmakers are demanding that program be scaled back. But law enforcement officials, including Albemarle County's police chief, say not so fast.

The program in question brings all sorts of used military items to local police departments - guns, bulletproof vests, and even armored vehicles. Police officers in Albemarle say not only do they need the hand-me-downs, but it's also saving taxpayers money.

Albemarle County Police Chief Col. Steve Sellers says he doesn’t need a tank in the county, but he does need some of the 154 surplus rifles the department has stockpiled from the U.S. military.

“There are other things that are needed and communities can't afford – vests, bulletproof vests and flap jackets,” Sellers said.

Sellers does say the department returned 40 of the rifles because they were not needed.

This week some lawmakers in Congress are calling for an end or a cutback to the hand-me-down program with the military following some controversial use of tanks and riot gear by police in Ferguson, Missouri.

“What I see is not so much the militarization of police. I see a more serious problem, a more underlying problem, and that's perhaps a failure to enter into a strong relationship and dialogue between the community and the Police Department,” Sellers said.

But should that controversy lead to program cuts, it could mean more pressure on the taxpayers because what gets handed down doesn't have to be bought with local resources. “Saves taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars I'm sure by acquiring those rifles through military surplus,” Sellers said.

Sellers says officers throughout the state have had their eyes on what's been going on in Ferguson. He says police chiefs across the state plan to set aside some time at an upcoming meeting to discuss what they can do to make sure nothing like that ever happens in Virginia.

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