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Colorado Law Enforcement Agencies Obtain Unwanted Military Equipment

DENVER (CBS4) - The conflict in Ferguson, Mo., where an unarmed teen was shot by police has raised the issue whether police agencies are becoming too militarized. And records show several Colorado law enforcement agencies have an array of equipment that the military no longer needs.

CBS4 Investigator Rick Sallinger looked at what local agencies have gotten and how they're using it.

Armored Vehicle
(credit: La Plata County Sheriff's Office)

Rather than throw it away, the Department of Defense gives items they no longer need away to local police agencies. But the trouble in Missouri has raised questions whether militarization has gone too far.

Far from war zones some Colorado police departments are listed as having received mine-resistant vehicles. The La Plata County Sheriff's Department in southwest Colorado uses an armored vehicle.

"It's value is incomprehensible to small agencies and agencies with limited budgets," said retired Denver police officer Rob Rathburn.

Rathburn strongly defends the military pass-along program.

"So the value of that vehicle at that point is, yes, you want that intimidation factor, plus the protection for those officers," he said.

Fremont County is home to many of Colorado's state and federal prisons. Agencies in the county have received 34 assault rifles, two grenade launchers and three armored vehicles.

The Denver Police Department purchased their own armor-plated vehicles for use in SWAT and other situations where officers are at risk. But the American Civil Liberties Union is critical

"They escalate the risk of unnecessary violence. They often result in tragedy for innocent civilians," said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director.

Elsewhere in Colorado, Moffat County has received 11 assault rifles and two grenade launchers. Elbert County got 27 assault rifles and two armored vehicles.

The Colorado State Patrol handles the requests.

"I don't know if they need that, but the Department of Defense and Colorado State Patrol have decided that in these areas that it would be beneficial for these areas to have this equipment," Trooper Nate Reid said.

The Moffat County Sheriff's Department told CBS4 they use grenade lauchers to lob tear gas when they have a barricaded subject. The Fremont County sheriff says it is part of a regional SWAT team that has had numerous calls where the equipment has been needed and points out getting it from the military is much cheaper than buying it themselves.

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