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25 assault rifles and 1 armored truck: The hand-me-down military gear Syracuse police have

DJ Leln
via Flickr
A mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, known as an MRAP. Designed for the military, surplus trucks have been given to police departments throughout the country, including Syracuse.

Some of the hand-me-down gear the Syracuse police force has received from the Pentagon is harmless - and in fact pretty useful: First aid kits, 40 pairs of long johns, 50 pairs of winter boots, even electrical tape and bungee cords.

But also on the list of gear transferred from the military to Syracuse police over the past decade through the Defense Department’s 1033 program are 25 assault rifles and a mine-resistant armored vehicle, called an MRAP. WRVO obtained the list through a Freedom of Information request.

"What is the protocol for use? How do they appear? When would they be deployed and how and by whom? I think those are legitimate questions that the public has the right to know," said Barrie Gewanter, head of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. 

"These items should be used with caution."

The military surplus program has been criticized this year by groups like the ACLU after police in the St. Louis area deployed heavy equipment to curb protests in nearby Ferguson.

"These items should be used with caution," Gewanter said. "And it’s my hope the Syracuse Police Department is doing so."

She says the hardware can be good for keeping officers safe in dangerous situations, but it needs to be used appropriately, especially the armored vehicle.

"I would hope that Syracuse police are not going to go outfitted like military into our neighborhoods," she said. 

Gewanter also says non-weapons gear is a smart use of the program because it saves the city money.

The MRAP vehicle arrived in Syracuse in September of last year. The police department was reluctant to discuss it after multiple requests.

The city council was unaware even of its existence, when asked this summer. Its existence has since been reported in the media. The council has previously voted to allow grant money to be used for the Syracuse police to purchase a different type of armored vehicle, a BearCat, to supplement one owned by the county sheriff.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner was asked about the city’s acquisition of military gear. She says the important thing is Chief Frank Fowler and the department are working to develop a good relationship with the community. 

Credit Ryan Delaney / WRVO
Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler, left, and Mayor Stephanie Miner. (file photo)

"I feel very good about the relationship that we have with our neighbors and Chief Fowler in particular has with the community so that we aim and desire to serve and protect," she said. 

Fowler, who declined to speak about the MRAP on the record to WRVO, says training officers is how to make sure they respond properly in heated situations. 

"Saying it is not enough," Fowler said. "Consistency through training is how they will learn that."

At a Common Council meeting this week, council president Van Robinson questioned Fowler on the police's possession of heavy equipment.

The police department should not resemble the National Guard, Robinson said, according to a fellow councilor.

Fowler replied that there's a lot the department has to be prepared for, according to councilor Bob Dougherty, and far away events shouldn't have bearing on his department's conduct.

The White House says it will work to improve the surplus program, but not stop it. There will be tighter controls on federal money being used by local police forces to buy military-grade equipment.

Here's the full list of equipment Syracuse Police have obtained through the 1033 program: