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Local law enforcement agencies explain use of military style vehicles

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Violent protests out of Missouri and the response from law enforcement has sparked a debate about what some are calling the militarization of police.

Some argue the equipment they've been seen using to manage the crowd look like their preparing for urban warfare.

Local agencies wanted to stress that their vehicles have been "de-militarized". Meaning they're used for defense, instead of offense.

They say they're strictly for transportation and making sure all of their officers get to go home at the end of their shift.

Armored vehicles with what looks like high-powered weapons make their way through a crowd of protesters in Ferguson, Missouri.

Surprising to those who would have never thought a local law enforcement agency would be equipped with such a thing. Do they really need it?

Agencies right here in Oklahoma say yes and they say they have a good explanation.

Oklahoma City Police are armed with one of the vehicles in question. Capt. Wade Gourley says as criminals and weapons evolve, so do they.

“When I first came on very rarely did I encounter people that had AR-15 rifles or AK 47’s,” says Gourley. “You have to have something like this that can stop weapons like that from hurting an officer.”

Canadian County just recently got their hands on a 25 ton military vehicle that's seen combat overseas.

Undersheriff Chris West says, “There’s not one offensive thing about this vehicle, it’s a defensive vehicle.”

West says he's been in situations where he wished they had this.

“I’ve buried law enforcement guys that I’ve worked with, I’ve been there when they’ve been shot and killed,” says West. “As Law enforcement executives, it’s the sheriff`s responsibility to protect his people so that’s the why, why did we get this? To protect our people.”

But they both say the threat has to be there.

“Maybe they’ve attacked the police before. Maybe they’re armed with some pretty high-powered weaponry,” says Capt. Gourley. “That’s when you would see something like this.”

Whether or not it's needed in Ferguson, Missouri is yet to be determined.

Capt. Gourley says, “When that’s all said and done there will be people that will look at that and be able to give us an honest assessment and we can learn from that."

These vehicles can be paid for in two different ways. Larger agencies like Oklahoma City Police use money seized from criminals, like drug money.

Smaller agencies like Canadian County are granted these vehicles through national programs at a much lower cost to tax payers.