U.S. Senator Richard Shelby blasted the Obama Administration today over what he called a "flawed, irresponsible" decision that resulted in Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson returning two military surplus vehicles according to a policy change last week.
The tracked vehicles, which are armored but have no artillery or weapons, were given back to federal authorities last week after the sheriff's office had used them for the previous decade. They were acquired in 2004 through the federal 1033 program, which transferred excess military equipment to civilian law enforcement agencies at no cost - only shipping and handling fees.
Shelby said the change makes it "clear that this president is more interested in scoring political points than ensuring the safety of our citizens."
"We live in an increasingly dangerous and uncertain world, and we cannot allow President Obama to prioritize protecting those trying to do us harm over those trying to protect us," Shelby said in a statement.A review earlier this year by the Obama Administration of 1033 policy restricted the use of tracked vehicles to law enforcement agencies. This came following public criticism of the use of military equipment during police responses to unrest in Ferguson, Mo. and Baltimore, Md.
Calhoun County officials said the vehicles were used in searches in wooded areas for armed suspects, during ice storms and during a search for victims of a plane crash. In addition, they were also regularly requested for parades and used in educational outreaches at schools.
In a two-page letter to the president, Shelby went on cite the recent terrorist attacks in Paris to call the policy change "misguided and dangerous." He said in the wake of Ferguson that he understands "the need for a national debate about how to balance the rights of law-abiding citizens with the tools and policies necessary for public safety."
But the decision shows Obama believes "that you know better than leaders of our communities what tools they need to help keep their citizens safe," he wrote.
"It comes as no surprise to those of us in Alabama that you have aligned your policies with those who would have us believe that the biggest problem in communities is the police, and your executive order regarding surplus military equipment is one case in point," the letter states.