Fred Grimm

August 25, 2014

Fred Grimm: Virginia Gardens’ military weaponry seem outsized for such a small town

Virginia Gardens, with its own BearCat war wagon, is ready for danger.

Virginia Gardens, with its own BearCat war wagon, is ready for danger.

And well it should be. The Miami Herald regularly publishes highlights from crime reports filed by various police departments around Miami-Dade County. It seemed a good place to find out why a village of 2,300, sandwiched between Miami Springs and Miami International Airport, might need an armored personnel carrier wrapped in half-inch steel with gun ports, a blast-resistant floor and windows designed to withstand .50-caliber machine gun fire.

Such a fearsome vehicle might seem an unlikely acquisition for Virginia Gardens, with its quiet streets and middle-class homes, but the Herald’s last four police reports from the village tell a different story:

“Police were dispatched to a call about a suspicious red Tahoe parked on the grass in the 6600 block of Northwest 38th Street. Officers ran the tag and walked to the owner’s home across the street. The owner told police that she parked there ‘because she had a party at her home.’ Police documented the incident.”

Just the day before, Virginia Gardens police nabbed workers “excavating the ground where the septic tank is located” without a permit. It was the same day they rescued an 83-year-old with dementia wandering along Northwest 57th Avenue. Then there was the complaint from a homeowner on Northwest 41st Street about a man who “kept coming over and knocking on the front door.”

Mindful of such dangers, the Pentagon has outfitted Virginia Gardens and scores of other small towns (and big cities, too) across America as if their police departments intended to go to war with their own citizens.

Some folks were stunned when the police in Ferguson, Missouri, dealing with civil unrest, rolled out a daunting display of military hardware. But the town’s armory was hardly unusual. Since 1997, the Department of Defense, urged on by defense contractors, has handed $4.3 billion worth of surplus military equipment to local cops. Much of it as counter-intuitive as Virginia Garden’s BearCat.

The New York Times reported that since 2006, the Pentagon has given away 867 armored vehicles, 93,763 machine guns and 44,900 night-vision goggles. Towns have received land-mine detection systems and — who knows why — thousands of silencers. Agencies around Miami-Dade County received 247 assault weapons, five grenade launchers, two helicopters, six armored vehicles.

According to the Miami New Times, Florida International University copped 50 assault rifles and an armored vehicle in case the kids get rowdy.

Big cities coping with well-armed gangs might have an argument, but rural hamlets and quiet suburbs have been outfitted to take on invading armies. Town officials who would never consider paying $733,000 for armored vehicles can suddenly imagine catastrophic scenarios unfolding in their communities when the stuff is free.

Well, not exactly free. But you needn’t worry about the cost of this insane weaponry overkill unless you happen to pay federal income taxes. I’m sure those particular taxpayers won’t mind, knowing that Virginia Gardens cops, snug inside their war wagon, are ready to rumble.

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