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Ministers try peaceful protest through Ferguson

Riot police moved in when protesters refused to get out of W. Florissant in Ferguson on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. Many protesters raised their hands but refused to move. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

WASHINGTON • Congress will review the federal program that has led to the transfer of military equipment to various police agencies in St. Louis County and has been questioned in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Friday is committee will reconsider the program during upcoming debate on the Defense Department's budget. Levin suggested the program's original intentions — to respond to threats by heavily armed "drug criminals" — may have been changed by local police departments around the country.

"Congress established this program out of real concern that local law enforcement agencies were literally outgunned by drug criminals," Levin said in a statement released Friday afternoon by his office. "We intended this equipment to keep police officers and their communities safe from heavily armed drug gangs and terrorist incidents. Before the defense authorization bill comes to the Senate floor, we will review this program to determine if equipment provided by the Defense Department is being used as intended.”

Attorney General Eric Holder and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., called for "demilitarization" of the use of heavy armored vehicles and body armor in response to demonstrations and violence in the aftermath of the 18-year-old Brown's shooting. Authorities, newly under the direction of the Missouri Highway Patrol, pulled back the use of that type of equipment Thursday night, and there was less violence in the streets, as noted Friday by Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson.

A Department of Defense list of items transferred to St. Louis County under the 1033 program shows county police agencies received rifles, pistols, gun sights, night-vision goggles, night sights, an explosive ordnance robot, three helicopters, seven Humvees and three cargo trailers. 

Federal data showed that the 1033 program has amounted to the transfer of about $4.3 billion worth of equipment to local police agencies around the country.

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