Amid growing debate over whether local law enforcement has become too militarized, Sen. Harry Reid and Carson Sheriff Kenny Furlong come down in the same place: The problem isn’t the military surplus equipment, much of which is valuable to police, but how it’s used.
In a wide ranging interview at his Reno office Monday, Reid said: “It’s not whether the equipment is needed. It probably is.
“It’s how the equipment and supplies are being used,” Reid said adding that training in how and when to use it is key for law enforcement.
Furlong said Tuesday he doesn’t consider the transfers of equipment from the federal government to local law enforcement a problem.
“We have acquired a lot of equipment from the military to protect and serve the community,” Furlong said. “Most of the time, that equipment is used in the service area, not in the protection area.”
But Furlong said after the shooting at the iHop restaurant, his department acquired military assault rifles capable of “combating our worst scenario.”
“That’s been a godsend because we do periodically run across the most deadly incidents such as at Sand Mountain,” he said referring to a June crime in which a suspect reportedly killed at least three people and led Furlong’s deputies on a chase all the way to Sand Mountain near Fallon where they killed him in a gunfight.
“Thankfully, they were equipped to end the situation,” Furlong said.
Reid cited the bombing at the Boston Marathon a year ago saying the military equipment provided to Boston was important.
As for local law enforcement operating like the military, Furlong said, “fundamentally speaking, local law enforcement organizations are paramilitary organizations.”
He said the center of attention in Ferguson, Missouri, has been the use of the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, a huge armored transport.
He said Carson City received an MRAP from the army but he intends to reserve it to deploy SWAT team members in extreme situations only. He said getting that vehicle from the military saved Carson City residents about a half-million dollars.
The department also has two Humvees, one of which will be completely dedicated to Search and Rescue and the other a combination of Search and Rescue and SWAT deployment.
“So much of what we have is not used for militarization; it’s used for the welfare of our public,” Furlong said.
He said his goal is to get equipment that is of use to the taxpayers. Which is why when he was urged to get a helicopter — which Washoe County did — “I said no, I’m not going to get a helicopter.”
In Missouri, Furlong said, “It’s a damned shame radicals are destroying the very positive message the people of Ferguson are trying to deliver.”
He said its unfortunate local government hasn’t stepped up, instead letting the local police continue to mishandle the situation.
He said just Tuesday he sat down with a group of his people in training to talk about what was happening in Missouri and how to handle difficult situations, emphasizing that, “It can happen anywhere, you guys.”