Threats to public safety can take many forms.

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The foremost responsibility of government is to protect its citizens. We rely on law enforcement officers to keep our schools, streets and neighborhoods safe. These brave officers put themselves in harm's way every day, and we owe it to them to see that they can do their jobs and still go home to their families.

OUR VIEW: Do local police really need MRAPs?

Threats to public safety can take many forms, and law enforcement agencies should have access to all the tools they need. A patrol officer on traffic duty needs different equipment than a tactical officer serving a high-risk warrant as part of a drug trafficking task force. A bicycle officer needs different equipment than officers on crowd control or providing security for large public events.

Access to equipment that assists law enforcement in carrying out their mission does not "militarize" them. Most of the equipment is transferred to law enforcement through the partnership program administered by the Defense Department. It is equipment already bought and paid for by American taxpayers and repurposed for public safety use.

The equipment is primarily defensive in nature — soft body armor, armored vehicles, aircraft — and is used to protect officers. Armored vehicles are used for rescue operations, to protect officers securing the perimeter of a hostage situation. These tools not only provide protection for officers, but also serve as a deterrent by demonstrating that law enforcement is ready and able to respond to any dangerous situation or critical incident.

More than 8,000 law enforcement agencies have benefited from this program, which was created specifically to increase the public safety capabilities of local law enforcement. With everything we ask law enforcement to do, how can we limit the tools that let them do their jobs?

This is especially true for counterdrug, anti-gang or counterterror operations. If police are outgunned and out-armored by gangs or cartels, they are less able to protect the lives of the public.

State and local law enforcement agencies are not militarizing. They are protecting the communities with every available resource.

Chuck Canterbury is president of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation's oldest and largest law enforcement labor organization.

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