Police Chief: When it comes to military weapons, “It’s not what you have, but how you use it”

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Whether it be the use of tear gas, riot gear, or m-raps – nationally people are talking about the ‘militarization’ of the police force.

Through the 1033 program the US military has sold more than $5 billion in equipment and property to local law enforcement agencies since 1990. More than 8-thousand agencies have participated in the program.

The Huntsville Police Department is not one of them. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have quite the arsenal.

Chief Lewis Morris says the department does have semi-automatic patrol rifles, an armored SWAT vehicle, chemical agents, non-lethal munitions (otherwise known as rubber bullets), and other military-style equipment.

While smaller departments rely on the 1033 program to purchase equipment that would otherwise be beyond their budget, Morris says HPD has the resources available to purchase equipment already modified as they need it.

But just because they have it, does not mean you’ll see an armored SWAT vehicle or chemical agents being used on the streets at random.

The department has a strict protocol.

“We`re an internationally accredited police department. We have over 400 written directives and guidelines that we operate under,” explained Morris.

While national concerns over police militarization mount, Morris does not want Huntsville residents to fear their police department.

“Any police department probably has a lot of the items you`re talking about – chemical agents, distraction devices, automatic weapons – in-house and in supply. It’s not the fact that you have them, It`s how you deploy them and how you use them.”

Several other Tennessee Valley law enforcement agencies have benefited from the 1033 program, purchasing anything from helicopters and Humvees to computers and kitchen equipment.

You can search to find what your county law enforcement agencies have purchased through the program by using this database.