Olathe Police Department’s Tactical Support Unit exercise Wednesday, April 22

Target home for police action tactical training.

Target home for police action tactical training. Photos by Paul Wilson

By Paul Wilson

On April 13, the Olathe PD issued a memo to residents in the neighborhood around Winterbrooke and Sheridan Bridge altering them to a training exercise that would be taking place between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., on Wednesday the 22nd. Focused on a vacant house at that intersection. it also alerts residents they may hear 1-2 loud sounds, “consistent with an explosion” and possibly notice the presence of “large police trucks and armored vehicles.”

Hardly a normal sight in this quiet neighborhood.

A less publicized exercise took place about 3 months ago, alarming several residents. I received the tip from Chris and Crystal Grohs, the owners of Kansas Coffee Company, when they sent me pictures as they drove by. Crystal told me, “I think this is the last thing children and adults need to be seeing in their back yards. Such violence is blasted on social media, TV and its not a positive way to improve the relationship between the general public and law enforcement.”

I happen to agree.

It’s unsettling to many others I’ve talked to, when you see a local police department roll into a neighborhood with firepower that rivals the National Guard. Why? Because it’s hard to turn on the news lately without seeing yet another story about overtly aggressive actions taken against citizens by the police. Recently we saw South Carolina police officer Michael Slager arrested and charged with murder after a video showed him fatally shooting 50-year-old Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, eight times in the back.

Sheridan and Winterbrooke signSo just what is this equipment and where does it come from? It can be virtually anything you’d find in the military and it comes courtesy of the Federal Defense Logistic Agency’s 1033 Program. City and State agencies apply, FDLA approves and, in most cases, the equipment is turned over in exchange for shipping costs. Proponents of the program claim it gives local departments equipment they couldn’t afford while making good use of excess equipment already paid for by you, the taxpayer. Those opposed say it re enforces a change in attitude whereby police increasingly see themselves as “at war” with communities rather than public servants.

Senator Claire McCaskill headed a hearing last year looking into the militarization of local departments. It was found that 36% of the excess military equipment awarded to local agencies was never even used by the military or was virtually new. Another alarming statistic from the hearings noted local police departments in 49 of 50 states have more MRAPS, (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles), than their state’s National Guard! To date, the Federal Defense Logistic Agency has provided $5.1 billion worth of equipment to local law enforcement agencies.

I’m not a black helicopter conspiracy nut, but this concerns me.

Olathe was awarded an MRAP, valued at $412,000, according to the FDLA’s database, along with two 5.56mm rifles. Unconfirmed sources tell me the Johnson County Sheriff’s office has received thirty three 5.56mm rifles, one 107mm mortar carrier and two MRAPs. And tomorrow, you can see them in action.

I stopped by the intersection, early this morning, to take pictures and found NPL Construction employees working on utilities. I asked if they had been told about the planned activities and they replied that, indeed, the police had stopped, informed them and wanted to make sure they would be done before tomorrow.police action intersection view

I understand and support our police needing to be armed as well as their opponents, drug dealers and terrorists. But this is Olathe. How often is there a need for this level of firepower? There’s a nationwide trend towards an increased level of militarization within the local police department. Should you be able to accidentally mistake your local police for the National Guard? No, I don’t think so.

My fear is two fold. One, we are seeing police departments lose the “protect and serve” mentality as more and more unarmed people are killed. In this most recent case, had a passer by not have taken a video of the event, it too may have gone uncharged and unpunished. Two, sending officers who are this heavily armed to perform “normal” police activity, like the service of warrants, can quickly and dangerously escalate into situations that never should have ended in violence.

And worst of all possible scenarios, the local police could end as up an extension of the military if you, the common citizen, needed to be suppressed.

I’ll be there tomorrow to see how this shakes out.

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