TESS VIGELAND, HOST:
Earlier, I spoke with U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill. She's a Democrat from Missouri, and she's been in Ferguson this week meeting with community leaders. And she's also been speaking with the Justice Department about federal investigations into what happened this week. I asked the senator whether she has confidence in the local police authorities in Ferguson.
SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL: I think there have obviously been some stumbles and some problems, but I think what is reassuring to me is that in my conversations with the Department of Justice officials, both in Washington and here and in St. Louis and with the local law enforcement, there really is all eyes and ears on this investigation. Two different agencies are doing the investigation, but each one of them is doing all of the investigation. And then they're sharing all the information back and forth. And certainly witnesses are being encouraged, if they are uncomfortable talking to local police, to call the FBI. So my sense is we're going to get all the facts. We're going to try to find all the witnesses. And then it will be up to the Justice Department, in a separate consideration, to determine if federal charges are appropriate. And then the local law enforcement will determine whether or not there are state criminal charges that are appropriate.
VIGELAND: There is a sense of shock throughout the country, I think, when people see all of these images of police officers wearing gas masks, camouflage, driving armored vehicles. And much of that equipment comes directly from or is funded by the federal government. And you have now said that this kind of response may be the problem instead of the solution. What changes, if any, do you think Congress could make to this program?
MCCASKILL: Well, I think we take a hard look at what is the equipment that we are passing on to local law enforcement. Some of this coming from Department of Defense and some of it is coming under grants that are given to the federal government under the aegis of Homeland Security. We've been working on this, by the way, for several months in my subcommittee on contracting oversight and government oversight, and we're going to take a hard look at both of these programs. Of course, I think it's good that you would want to share equipment you no longer have the necessity for, but let's make sure it's equipment that's really needed. What we saw the other night was a militarization that was escalating the problem rather than helping with the solution of the problem.
VIGELAND: Well, as noted that you sit on the Homeland Security committee, which of course is a major source of grants for some of this equipment, I wonder, before now, was this question of local police militarization - was it even up for debate?
MCCASKILL: Well, there was certainly a debate about these funds. There has been an effort over the previous few years to cut back on these funds. This was originally as - a lot of this money came as a result of 9-11, and a great deal of it has gone to major metropolitan areas like New York and Washington, D.C. And a lot of other communities have participated in this - these funds also. And it's just time to do a whole gut check on this entire idea of military equipment being used by police officers here in America.
VIGELAND: Senator McCaskill, you are a daughter of Missouri - a resident - how troubling is it for you personally that this is now the image of your state that the world is seeing?
MCCASKILL: Well, it's frustrating because we did have that kind of equipment on the streets for a couple of days and nights. By and large, that has been removed. But those images - because of the image the media being what it is, a picture is a powerful thing. And we haven't seen the pictures that I've seen - standing room only at every church in the Ferguson area, the rooms full of people hugging and loving one another and trying to find solutions, and the young adolescents that are peacefully demonstrating, exercising their rights in America. There are many positive pictures.
VIGELAND: That's U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Senator McCaskill, thank you so much for your time.
MCCASKILL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.