Charlottesville Police Chief Reacts to Use of Military Surplus Gear

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Aug. 21, 2014

Days of unrest following the fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, has been cause for concern for Police Chief Tim Longo, who is hundreds of miles away in Charlottesville.

Chief Longo is already taking steps towards making a plan, should tragedy ever unfold locally.

"Let's commit to some principals. Let's commit to professional, ethical policing. Let's commit to accountability and transparency. Let's commit to more collaborative work in this community," Longo said.

Police in Ferguson have been criticized for how they've handled the investigation into the officer-involved shooting, and for using military style gear to control protestors.

The gear, however, is not limited to Missouri. In fact police departments across the nation are getting surplus military gear from government.

Since 2006 Charlottesville police have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in de-commissioned military cast-offs, including 96 5.56 mm rifles, 40 pieces of night vision equipment, and even an armored truck.

"We live in an evil world. We can point to things that have happened across the country in schools, college campuses shopping malls and movie theatres, where we will have to deploy operationally in that fashion," said Longo.

According to Longo, even before the department accepts the equipment they critically evaluate the possible uses.

"First question needs to be do we need it? Second question what do we need it for? Third question how will we use it? Fourth question, not a question but a requirement, but how d we regulate it," said Longo. "I don't need automatic weapons on the streets on Charlottesville. So if that's what I take possession of, deactivate that feature, unless I can articulate a need for it."

Longo says it's important for the police department to exercise accountability and oversight when it comes to using the military equipment.

"There have been times where an incident has met the threat matrix, has exceeded it, and we've stepped back and said there a less intrusive way to handle this," Longo said.

The most important lesson from Ferguson, according to Longo, is keeping an open dialogue and building trust between the community and law enforcement.

It will cause people to step back and looks and say I wonder what would happen in this community if, I wonder whether the police will be transparent," said Longo, "We're not always going to be able to share info, but we've gotta be able to say trust us."

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