ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Not too far from Hampton Roads and just nine miles north of the North Carolina border, the rural city of Franklin, Va., is home to farmland, 8,638 people and one military-grade, mine-resistant vehicle.
The police force is of one of the smallest among the more than 100 localities in the commonwealth receiving surplus military equipment through the U.S. Department of Defense Excess Property Program.
Over the past couple of decades, more than 100 local police agencies in the commonwealth have gotten hold of combat gear the military no longer needs, from grenade launchers to riot gear to rifles to an MRAP.
Franklin City Police Chief Phil Hardison said he’s well aware of people’s concerns and the discussions of the militarization of police — but the safety of residents and his 30 well-trained officers is his primary concern.
“I understand there’s been a lot of discussion across the country, a fair amount of criticism against these vehicles, but local and state law enforcement are citizens’ first line of defense,” he said. “… There’s a high probability that they (people who criticize the program) have never been engaged in events that have the capacity and the ability to be immediately life-threatening to them or members of the community that they are responsible for providing safety.”