Activists in Champaign Concerned About Police Weapons

URBANA - Local activists are trying to demilitarize law enforcement agencies in Champaign-Urbana.  Worried residents say officers do not  need  military weapons to enforce the law.  They expressed that concern at the Champaign county board meeting Thursday night.  They are the Coalition of Police Demilitarization and they're concerned with a new initiative in the county.

"People with the coalition are deeply concerned about what's going on in the country and the disturbing trend this MRAP represents," said coalition member Brian Dolinar.

An MRAP is a vehicle commonly used  by the U.S. Army to withstand bullets and explosives.  The Champaign County Sheriff's Office acquired one through the federal government's 1033 Program.  The program provides law enforcement agencies with surplus military weapons such as M16 assault rifles which area police now have.

"There using equipment that was built for the battlefield, not for policing communities," said coalition member Durl Cruse.

The coalition wants local law enforcement agencies to withdraw from the 1033 Program.

"Residents have expressed concern over the thought of sniper rifles or an M16 being pulled out in residential neighborhoods," said Cruse.

Champaign County Sheriff, Dan Walsh, says the new equipment is necessary because  Champaign-Urbana is becoming increasingly violent.  He also says that the M16s they have are not automatic, making them equivalent to an AR15.  It's a rifle that civilians are aloud to have in their homes with the proper licensing.  He also says the MRAP vehicle does not contain offensive weapons.  It's strictly for for protection.  But, the coalition will continue to push for the removal of this equipment.

"Living in a democracy, we should have some sort of voice in how local law enforcement agencies go about policing or communities," said Cruse.

Speaking out today was one of the first steps made by the coalition, but it won't be the last.

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