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Tri-County law enforcement equipped with war weapons, other military equipment

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BERKELEY COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Semi-automatic guns.  Helicopters.  Armored Vehicles.

It's the kind of equipment native to U.S. military forces, but all are becoming increasing popular among local law enforcement agencies as well.

In an address Monday, President Obama said he wanted to make sure the nation isn't building a "militarized culture," among local police forces.  He proposed studying agencies who've used the equipment successfully.

In the Tri-County area, most law enforcement agencies have at least one military-styled weapon or piece of equipment in their arsenal.  In Berkeley County, deputies have access to 25 military style semi-automatic rifles, while the Charleston County Sheriff's office has amassed 89 patrol rifles, four helicopters, and an M-60 light machine gun.

Both departments acquired the equipment through the Section 1033 program, an operation run through the Department of Defense.

Under the program, agencies pay an annual fee, usually between $500-$2000, based on the size of their department. 

Agencies can then request items such as body armor, weapons, surveillance equipment, and vehicles.  If approved, the military surplus is filtered down to the local agency, as determined by individual need.

Captain David Brabham of the Berkeley County Sheriff's office said deputies would likely use the equipment in an active shooter situation, or with someone who has barricaded themselves inside a building.

Deputies are required to go through training and testing each year, before getting clearance to use the war weaponry.

"It's something unfortunate you hope you never have to run into but when that time arises, you hope by having these you can bring a peaceful solution to it by just have the ability to use it," Brabham said.

The Section 1033 program has been in effect since 1997, but re-emerged onto the national spotlight following public outcry after law enforcement agencies employed military-styled force among civilian protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

Other Tri-county agencies equipped with military weaponry include:

  • Charleston police:  Five Hum V's, one military type transport truck (used for water rescue), a Peace Keeper (not in use/purchased with a grant), 50 patrol rifles through the 1033 program
  • Hanahan police:  Six M16 rifles and rifle optics
  • Dorchester County Sheriff's Office:  One armored vehicle (purchased, NOT donated)

A spokesperson with the North Charleston police department said the agency has not participated in the Section 1033 program for more than 11 years.

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