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Maffei, Katko discuss the role of military surplus program

Ellen Abbott
Rep. Dan Maffei (D-Syracuse), while visiting the New York State Fair in Syracuse

The images coming from Ferguson, Missouri, of police in riot gear facing protesters has some in Congress calling for changes to the way local police agencies are able to use cast off military equipment from the Department of Defense.

The two candidates for the 24th Congressional District seat, which covers all of Onondaga, Cayuga and Wayne counties and the western half of Oswego County, have two different views of that.

Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei has already voted against the program that provides surplus military equipment to law enforcement agencies.

"The police should be the police, and the military should be the military," Maffei said.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO
Republican Congressional candidate John Katko, center, during a Veteran's ceremony at the New York State Fair.

  His Republican challenger, John Katko, thinks police agencies should have access to the equipment if they need it.

“Me personally, I think you should protect police officers as much as you can," Katko said.

Maffei’s opposition springs from a couple of areas.

“I think it’s a civil liberties concern," Maffei explained. "And our military does a tremendous job. We have the National Guard, they have their duty. The civilian police force has theirs, and we shouldn’t mix up the two.”

Maffei also says he’s already voted against the program at a time no one was paying attention to it.

“I think anybody should be concerned if police are going around with military-style weapons and vehicles unless absolutely necessary," Maffei said. "I mean, there are SWAT teams and things like that, but if there’s something where you need military vehicles, that’s a bigger problem.”

But Katko looks at it with post-9/11 glasses, noting that local police agencies need to be equipped to handle anti-terrorism responsibilities.

"And so they have to be trained for that," Katko said. "And so you have this tension between being ready for terrorism, either homegrown or international terrorism, and you have to balance that with what a police force’s primary job is. And you know, in every instance they learn. And I’m sure they’ll learn from Ferguson."

Katko, who is a former federal prosecutor, says his prior profession gives him a different point of view.

"I know plenty of police officers shot in the line of duty, many of whom were working on my cases," Katko explained. "So I think anything you can do to protect them, you need to. But I think there is a healthy discussion to be had whether military-style equipment is necessary in all occasions.”

A Georgia lawmaker wants to make changes to the 10-33 program, after concerns surfaced about images of camouflaged police officers operating from armored vehicles and facing protesters in the wake of a police shooting of an unarmed teen.