NORWAY — Footage of military equipment being deployed by law enforcement in protests in Ferguson, Mo., has drawn national attention to the increase in heavily armed departments, but local police said battlefield weapons go largely unused by their departments.

Norway police Chief Robert Federico said police were issued free automatic rifles several years ago through the U.S. Department of Defense 1033 program, which acted as a pipeline to transfer weapons and other gear designed for the battlefield to local police departments.

Federico said the rifles stay locked in an evidence room and have never been used.

“We never will,” Federico said.

Images from Ferguson, Mo., show police in riot gear dispersing protesters with tear gas. Police are equipped with automatic rifles, armored vehicles and grenade launchers. 

Last year, the Sun Journal found that Maine’s police departments were not requesting as much of the federal surplus of military gear as other states

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For his officers, Federico said, that’s because police rarely run into scenarios when that level of force is required. When they do, Maine State Police are available with rifles and other equipment, such as a remote-controlled robot. 

“I don’t see an immediate need for the town of Norway to have that kind of gear,” Federico said.

The town also purchased a Chevrolet Blazer through the program, but maintaining the vehicle proved too costly. Federico said he understood why Oxford County deputies see the need to be more heavily armed. 

“They’re covering a much larger, more remote area; the county, with the rural unorganized territories, makes sense.” 

The Oxford Police Department maintains three M-16 rifles, though two of them have been stripped down and converted into training tools, police Chief Jonathan Tibbetts said. The third is ready if it’s needed. 

Tibbetts pointed to a situation a few years ago when a man was holed up in his house and threatened to shoot any officers who approached. 

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“Those are situations where we can sit back and watch, but we also have the equipment to take a long-range shot. Fortunately, we can talk people into surrender,” Tibbetts said.

Officers make the decision whether the weapon is necessary, depending on the individual scenario. In most cases, it’s only utilized where officers face opposing deadly force. 

“I don’t have any desire for anything bigger. If we’re in a situation for when we need that, the (Maine State Police) tactical team is here for that anyways,” Tibbetts said.

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