Midlands Agencies Use Military Style Equipment

Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- Mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, sheriffs and police departments across the Midlands have them and other military style equipment in their arsenals.

"I hope to God, I hope we never have to use it, but if we do, we have it," said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott. "I have to approve them going out, it goes through the chain and everybody asks certain questions but ultimately it comes down to me."

Lott spoke about the equipment his agency has at a meeting of the Columbia Rotary Club. He says it all started when law enforcement was not able to respond to two suspects barricaded in a home in Abbeville in 2003. A deputy and state constable were killed.

"They had to bring a welder in, get a big old piece of metal to weld onto their armored vehicles so they could go in and knocked it down. Unfortunately, the deputy was already dead, but we didn't know that. That standoff lasted for hours. At that point I said not in Richland County. If I need a piece of equipment I'm gonna have it," said Lott.

A report by the New York Times breaks down military style equipment that law enforcement agencies have obtained from a defense department program.

Their data shows that since 2006, law enforcement agencies in Richland County received the most equipment compared to other Midlands counties, including 306 assault rifles, night vision equipment, 10 helicopters, 4 min-resistant vehicles, 4 planes, and 2 armored vehicles.

In Lexington County, agencies received 112 pieces of night vision equipment, 94 assault rifles, 6 helicopters, 2 mine resistant vehicles.

Newberry county agencies also received assault rifles, pistols, 2 mine resistant vehicles and 2 armored vehicles.

Sumter and Orangeburg County both obtained assault rifles and 2 mine resistant vehicles each.

Some of the other counties in area did not receive vehicles, but did get weapons and other gear.

Clarendon County agencies received assault rifles, body armor, and night vision equipment, while Lee, Fairfield, Calhoun, and Saluda County agencies only received assault rifles.

The New York Times did not have data available for Kershaw County law enforcement agencies.

USC Law Professor Seth Stouthton, a former police officer, says there is a place for some use of military style pieces of equipment in limited roles, but they can be used inappropriately by some departments.

"What you have is this equipment sitting around, and barricaded subjects don't happen that often. So you see the equipment being used more broadly. You see it being used in everyday search warrants or all felony search warrants or arrest warrants, even warrants that have a very low risk to the officers," said Stouthton.

He says other concerns with the equipment include paying for maintenance and training, but Lott says that is not an issue with his department. He says many deputies already have military training and Fort Jackson is a resource as well.

So far, Lott says he has never had to deploy the large vehicles, outside of community request for them to be brought to events.

"I don't want the public to get surprised when they see this piece of equipment respond to a scene. I want the public to know, I want the bad guys to know it. If this piece of equipment will keep some bad guys from doing something, than it's worked too," said Lott.


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