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St. Pete Police not worried about plan to reduce military surplus program

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Obama administration announced Monday plans to scale back on federal military surplus programs used by local police agencies to purchase things like armored vehicles and SWAT gear. The Obama proposal would eliminate bayonets, weaponized vehicles and grenade launchers from available surplus items.

It would also make it tougher for local agencies to prove their case for riot gear and certain types of armored vehicles.

The move has the national Fraternal Order of Police up in arms, arguing President Barack Obama is politicizing the issue and overreaching into local law enforcement affairs.

“The FOP is the most aggressive law enforcement advocacy group in Washington, and we will be at our most aggressive in asserting the need for officer safety and officer rights in any police changes that are to be effected,” said James Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Pasco told POLITICO Monday he hopes to have a White House meeting as soon as Tuesday to discuss concerns about how the plan could pose safety risks for cops.

Pasco’s concern lies most heavily in the agency’s ability to affordably purchase things like riot batons, shields and helmets.

Despite criticism, the St. Petersburg Police Department says it won’t be affected. St. Pete Police spokesman Mike Puetz responded by email, saying he doesn’t remember the agency ever acquiring equipment through a military surplus program.

“We don’t believe it will have any effect on us. The specialized equipment we do have is not military surplus, but manufactured specifically for police use,” Puetz said.

The agency does have an armored vehicle, but Puetz said it’s not weaponized. It was purchased with money earmarked for security during the 2012 Republican National Convention.

“The armored vehicle we do have does not have weapons mounted on it and is used by our SWAT  officers strictly for rescue and personnel deployment in high-risk situations involving armed suspects,” Puetz said.

The federal military surplus program came under harsh criticism in 2014 after police responded to protests in Ferguson, Mo., using a heavily militarized presence.

Around that same time, the Pinellas County School District announced it was acquiring 28 M-16 assault rifles through a surplus program. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the program allowed the District to purchase the weapons for just about $50 each instead of the nearly $1,000 they would have otherwise cost.

Criticism surrounding the program and heavy police presence in schools following the Newtown elementary school massacre prompted the District to later return the weapons to make them available for more appropriate agencies.

Obama’s plan coincides with the release of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing report.

“Decades of research and practice support the premise that people are more likely to obey the law when they believe that those who are enforcing it have authority that is perceived as legitimate by those subject to the authority. The public confers legitimacy only on those whom they believe are acting in procedurally just ways. In addition, law enforcement cannot build community trust if it is seen as an occupying force coming in from outside to impose control on the community.”

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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