MIDLAND - Clashes between police and demonstrators in Missouri are fueling a big debate over how those officers handled the protesters. Some argue they're using combat weapons and tactics just like soldiers.
But according to Midland Police Chief, Price Robinson, law enforcement is structured in a quasi-military fashion. That has to do with ranking for sure, but also with equipment. More police departments across the nation are beginning to use weapons like those you'd find in war.
"Years ago law enforcement officers probably carried a revolver with 6 shots, and probably the criminals did too," Robinson explained. But over time those criminals were armed with more firepower. "Maybe automatic weapons and then there was a need for law enforcement to transition the semiautomatic," he said.
Machine guns, tanks that can withstand mines, camo gear, and night-vision goggles are just some of those items that contribute to the hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into buying equipment nationally, but Robinson says they don't have much need for those "special elements" here. He explained that they analyze crime trends and determine what technology is needed to fight a budding problem, but there hasn't been a significant increase in crime between last year to this year. That's why their most recent purchase included an armed vehicle in 2013.
"Any equipment that we procure, like the SWAT vehicles, is for the protection of the officers inside and the public. He said they've used that a few times and it's been a great addition. They also have camouflage for particular situations and have "also used night vision to track lost children or say someone with Alzheimer's who's walked away from a home or lost in an area at night," he said.
Typically the weapons and any forceful tactics are in response to resistance or a defense mechanism. And even then, Robinson there are strict guidelines in place that must be followed in those situations. He hopes there's never a local riot against the police.
"That incident in Ferguson is very unfortunate, I hope that they resolve that and bring calm to that community," he said. Regardless, he added, if there's any criminal threat, they must be prepared.
"It's gonna take equipment like this. And you always wanna be, I'll say one up," he said,
Still, Midlanders can sleep easy knowing that the officers' job doesn't call for anything more extreme. MPD said there is no military style equipment or technology on the horizon.