The West Springfield police department seems confused about why it possesses two military hand-me-down grenade launchers.
After we highlighted the department’s acquisition of the grenade launchers, a local reporter dug into the issue. The chief of the department, which operates in a town with fewer than thirty thousand people, said that people don’t need to worry about the military machinery because it’ll never be deployed.
"I cannot think of a scenario where we would employ those weapons,” he said. “They're so old and antiquated.”
Masslive describes how the grenade launchers can be used with tear gas cannisters:
The M651 military tear gas cartridges are made of a hard metal – typically aluminum – and contain CS in a solid form. When fired, a fuse within the cartridge is ignited and transitions the solid CS into gas form. The gas is then designed to escape through a vent at the bottom of the cartridge.
Such cartridges made headlines around the time that the West Springfield police acquired them. The M651 cartridges were used by the FBI during the Waco siege. Some questioned if the cartridge started the fire that killed 76 people, though a government investigation concluded that sect members started the blaze themselves.
The West Springfield police chief says that those “flammable” gas cannisters, which “get very hot when they burn…[are] pretty much obsolete now.”
Making matters worse, the launchers don’t fire accurately. The chief told reporter Michelle Williams that they fired off target when officers tested them out at a shooting range. His department has no intention of using the antiquated, dangerous weapon, he said. But police are keeping them anyway.
If officials don't have any intention of using them, and readily admit that these weapons are volatile and inaccurate, why do they retain them? Isn't that dangerous? The West Springfield grenade launcher issue might seem silly, but it's a pretty good example of what happens when law enforcement agencies get powerful toys that they don't need and that potentially threaten public safety: they keep them forever.