A background issue as Senator Claire McCaskill starts hearings this week on the militarization of police departments is whether the nation has overreacted to homeland security issues since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

McCaskill’s subcommittee starts hearings tomorrow with officials from the departments of Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security, police chiefs, and others who have gotten equipment through Homeland Security programs.

She says some police departments have turned to Washington for equipment because their budgets have been cut or were low to begin with.  Getting equipment through Homeland Security filled a need.

She says she gets lobbied constantly by local governments wanting gear from federal agencies. “Kansas City’s been lobbying hard because they were going to be left off the list at Homeland Security in terms of additional funding. And I’m not sure that we ever intended the federal government to be the government that was going to be providing state and local fire and police departments with the kind of funding that we have been giving them out of Washington,” she says.

McCaskill says it is proper for some cities to have that equipment–major metro areas, for example.  But she says her committee needs to look at whether many small towns should be getting it.

She wonders whether local governments will prioritize the equipment  and fund its acquisition if  Washington quits providing it.

AUDIO: McCaskill interview 3:09