While the attention to and around the events in Ferguson, Mo., has ignited debates about race, class and use of force by the police, it's also drawn attention to the kinds of equipment that local police departments can tap into.

That includes renewed attention to a little-known government surplus program that since 9/11 has put millions of dollars worth of military equipment into the hands of law enforcement, including agencies across South Carolina, the Post and Courier's Schuyler Kropf and Adam Parker report.

For minimal cost, departments around the state have joined in the Pentagon's 1033 Excess Property Program and picked up surplus vehicles, helicopters, night-vision goggles, military rifles, body armor and grenade launchers capable of firing tear gas.

Critics of the program say it has militarized the police, which in turn has heightened tensions that have fueled two weeks of violence in Missouri following the fatal shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon, whose agency has repeatedly utilized the 1033 program, is aware of accusations - from both the political left and right - of police brutality and overreach, and of the militarization of law enforcement. But he thinks it's all overblown.

"This militarization thing is straw man," he said. The concern comes from a "growing distrust and anger directed at government in general. What institutions do people trust? The military and law enforcement generally have been ranked at the top. But because of distrust for government, it's having an effect on the way people view the military and law enforcement."

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