Word out of Ferguson, Mo., this morning is that state and federal authorities are bringing a “softer” law enforcement approach, replacing local police officers who looked more like soldiers than cops over the past seven days.

The military-style tanks, assault weapons and body armor used to intimidate demonstrators struck a nerve as the nation looked on at the equipment, which has been creeping into local police departments for decades.

Chicago police didn’t use any of the military-grade tanks or assault weapons as hundreds gathered downtown yesterday to bring attention to overaggressive policing after Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was killed by a police officer in a St. Louis suburb. But according to an ABC I-Team investigation that aired last night, some of that equipment is within reach.

Police departments across Cook County have collected $37 million worth of military hand-me-downs through the Federal Law Enforcement Support Office, or LESO 1033, an increasingly controversial program that is arming municipalities across the country to the hilt.

According to ABC, Cook County alone has 1,700 pieces of old military equipment. The Department of Defense doesn’t break down how it was divvied up among departments within Cook County. (The ABC I-Team has a full accounting of the weapons.)

Radley Balko, the author of the book “Rise of the Warrior Cop,” has some interesting insight on evolution of local law enforcement agencies and how policing has been changed by heavy weapons, which were handed out, in large part, to wage the war on drugs. “When you take a police officer [and] arm him like a soldier, dress him like a soldier, send him out on the streets of American neighborhoods and tell him that he’s fighting several different wars, that’s going to have an effect on the mentality of police officers and how they do their jobs,” Balko says. Check out this excerpt from his interview with the BBC:

YouTube video

is a staff reporter at The Chicago Reporter.