Police director: MPD does not have to be militarized - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Police director: MPD does not have to be militarized

As a national debate over police militarization rages, police in Memphis say that's not their method. (Source: WMC Action News 5) As a national debate over police militarization rages, police in Memphis say that's not their method. (Source: WMC Action News 5)

(WMC) – Concerns over the militarization of local law enforcement are rising as images surface of police using military weaponry for crowd control in Ferguson, Mo.

The weapons being used, though, are not only available in Missouri. They are also available in the Mid-South.

Grenade launchers, mine-resistant vehicles, assault rifles are all weapons that local law enforcement can get from the federal government for free. But as a national debate over police militarization rages, police in Memphis say that's not their method.

Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong says he is sensitive to the situation playing out in Ferguson, Mo.

"It changes our communications," he said. "We have to be transparent. Two, we have to be responsible."

And one thing he says MPD does not have to be -- is militarized.

"You will not see that here absent extenuating circumstances," he said.

Armstrong says the only local response even remotely reminiscent locally was Easter Day 2013 when the KKK organized a rally in Memphis -- and nothing happened.

"And we're not going to have it, but if there's any doubt, let me say this, if we need it, that kind of stuff, it's only a phone call away," Armstrong added.

The United States Department of Defense gives away used combat gear, like assault rifles, body armor, armored vehicles, to police departments that request it.

"Sometimes when you know you got the big heavy stuff out there, you jump to it too quick when it may be through some other means you could diffuse the situation," said Mayor A C Wharton.

Although city officials announced a plan to increase police presence in an effort to curb teen gun violence, they say their methods will not spark civil unrest.

"We're not claiming anything like that and as you can see, we're going to do all the groundwork and everything we can ahead of time to even prevent that," Armstrong explained.

In an effort to prevent unrest, MPD is getting help from local pastors and community leaders to spread the message about upcoming enforcement changes.

Mayor Wharton plans to announce a community-wide meeting soon, too.

New York Times compiled federal data of military weapon use county by county. In the WMC Action News 5 viewing area, all but Tunica County and Lauderdale County received assault rifles. DeSoto County and Shelby County received grenade launchers. No one received armored vehicles, body armor, or night vision.

Copyright 2014 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved. 
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