A screen grab from the DLA website’s slideshow on the 1033 program.
However, O’Connell noted that some of the equipment seen in images of the protests has been acquired commercially and that the police presence includes officers from other units in the region.
Exacerbating police militarization, the Department of Homeland Security doles out multimillion-dollar grants to state and local agencies to pursue counterterrorism efforts, which often include acquiring sophisticated weaponry.
Equipping police officers with the trappings of war inevitably influences the psyche of law enforcement officials, experts said.
“When the police adopt this militaristic trope, they adopt with it this warrior mentality,” Nolan said. “They think, ‘Well, if we’re fighting a war, we have to have an enemy.’ And in this case, those are going to be unarmed, peaceful protesters. They are being treated as enemy combatants.”
For now, Nolan added, cooling down the situation is crucial.
“I am someone who had rocks and bottles thrown at me in situations very much like this, and I didn’t break out a sound cannon or tear gas or flash bang grenades or smoke bombs. I ducked,” he said. “Let’s put away the toys, boys. Get rid of the armored personnel carriers. Let’s get rid of the military garb, the gun turrets, the machine guns, and let’s begin a dialogue.”
Victor Kappeler, an associate dean at the Center for Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University, said the problem extends beyond the Ferguson and St. Louis County police departments to the culture of violence within law enforcement.
“Policing has been a hypermasculine, conservative profession. And to a large extent, police culturally embrace violence as a form of problem solving,” he said. “And when you equip them in [such] a way and you have a lack of leadership in the police agencies, this is the kind of behavior you’re going to see as a result. A lot of these guys live for these kinds of situations — the opportunity to use force and to work a riot.”