GREENVILLE, S. C. (WSPA) – The government says public safety should be more important than optics which is why President Trump lifted restrictions put in place by President Obama.
Those restrictions limited the amount of military-style equipment local law enforcement agencies could receive following the civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014.
“I really feel like that’s an impediment to bettering relationships with the community because if police officers are viewed as an occupational force that is not advantageous for building that public trust and camaraderie that is going to bring about public safety,” Jalen Elrod, the president of the Greenville Young Democrats said.
Law enforcement leaders in Greenville don’t think the president’s executive order he signed yesterday will have much of an impact in the city and county. However, there are areas in the Upstate that use items from the 1033 military surplus program.
In Greenville County, they have a Vietnam-era helicopter they use in cases such as the Pinnacle Mountain fire last year.
“That helicopter is really able to get us places vehicles can’t,” said Greenville County Sheriff Will Lewis.
The sheriff says the program is more than just grenade launchers, armored vehicles, rifles and high-power ammunition.
“The products we’re looking for are the computers, the desks, cleaning supplies,” Sheriff Lewis said. “We’re not out searching for 12 M1 Abrams tanks to put all over the county. That’s just not what we do.”
But, he says he would consider getting otherwise expensive bullet proof helmets.
“For our men and women who are out on the front lines, especially in our special operation division, or in a God-awful civil disturbance or something like that, I would look into something like that,” Sheriff Lewis said.
Law enforcement officials also say a lot of the surplus equipment has to be refurbished and can be quite costly for the department.
Greenville Police Department says they don’t have any of the surplus military equipment and may not want any either.
“Officer safety is important,” said Greenville Police Chief Ken Miller. “Public servant safety is important, but at the same time our missions are just very, very different. One is war, the other is peacemaking.”
Community members say that is an important aspect our law enforcement leaders recognize.
“Both the sheriff and police chief are very much in tune to the concerns of the community,” Elrod said. “They’re very much trying to bridge that gap between the community and law enforcement, and we always do appreciate the fact that they’re so cognizant of what needs to be done.”
There are other Upstate agencies that have the heavier surplus equipment such as the Seneca and Williamston police departments and the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office.