Military gives police free surplus equipment

Local police departments are outfitting themselves with the latest in military gear they’d never be able to afford themselves. But they aren’t paying a dime for their shiny new and slightly used helicopters and tanks. You are.

According to Pentagon data obtained by the Associated Press, some 16,000 law enforcement agencies obtained more than 380,000 pieces of equipment from military surplus worth $124 million in fiscal 2005. That’s right, free.

You and I have to pay (again) for it, if they will sell it to us at all.

The military equipment cops have received includes run of the mill surplus such as fatigues and binoculars, but some departments have received free ambulances, armored personnel carriers, and even free helicopters. Just pay shipping.

Authorities in Bucks County, Pa., just outside Philadelphia, turned to the Pentagon for two hand-me-down armored vehicles to protect officers in hostage standoffs. Savings to local taxpayers: more than $70,000 apiece. . . .

Detectives on a drug task force in Tippecanoe County, Ind., wear military fatigues for covert surveillance of methamphetamine cooks and cocaine dealers. In Pennsylvania, the state game commission uses a tranquilizer gun in its program to put tracking collars on bears. In Emmett Township’s Department of Public Safety in Michigan, a blue 1986 Chevrolet van is part of the mobile unit to process evidence. . . .

“We’ve gotten unbelievable stuff,” said police Sgt. Jim Forbes in Hampton, Va. “It’s benefiting a whole lot of folks in this business.”

Last year, Forbes’ department obtained 55 patrol rifles and paid only a few hundred dollars for shipping. Over the years, his department has received boats and even a doublewide trailer it uses as a training room on a range. — Associated Press

It would seem that most of this equipment is being used to outfit local SWAT teams.

“Having a bunch of military equipment lying around becomes an excellent motivator to form a paramilitary SWAT team, even if the community the police department serves doesn’t really need one,” says Radley Balko of Reason.

The other problem is that this equipment was designed for warfare — for the killing of foreign enemies. It’s now being used against U.S. citizens. It’s also a further blurring of the important line we draw between the military and domestic policing. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this program was started at the urging of Congress, eager to arm the country’s police officers en route to a greater militarization of the “war” on drugs.

Give police military equipment, train them in military tactics, and tell them they’re fighting a “war,” and it isn’t at all difficult to see how some officers would adopt the “win at all costs” mentality of a soldier, instead of the community servant mentality we expect of police officers. — Reason Hit & Run

The program, run by the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service, part of the Defense Logistics Agency, has been in operation since 1990, and supplied local police departments with billions of dollars of “free” military surplus — at your expense.

Ordinary citizens can also take advantage of the same military-direct surplus, though only after law enforcement agencies have picked through and taken most of the good stuff.

One thought on “Military gives police free surplus equipment

  • December 25, 2011 at 6:59 pm
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    I HAVE A QUESTIONN AND CONCERN AND WOULD LIKE A STRAIGHT UP ANSWER. BEEN IN LAW ENFORCEMENT FOR 33 YEARS, JUST RECENTLY ONE OF OUR OFFICERS RECEIVED PERMISSION TO START GETTING AS MANY ITEMS AS POSSIBLE FOR FREE. THIS WAS CONCERNING ME AS IS IT SOMETHING WE NEED OR JUST SOMEMTHING WE WANT. WE HAVE WENT FROM PARACHUTES, TRIP CORDS AND OTHER STUPIDS ITEMS THAT WE WILL NEVER NEED. WE JUST RECENTLY GOT A HUMMER THAT IS SO OLD fRED fLINTSTONE WOULD NOT DRIVE IT AND THE LIST OF CRAP GOES ON AND ON AND ON, i SEE THESE ITEMS LIKE BOOTS, JACKETS AND OTHER THINGS GIVEN TO OFFICERS AND NO WAY ARE THEY BEING USED IN THE PERFORMANCE OF THEIR DUTIES, PLUS WHAT EVER WE GET MOST ITEMS NEED A LOT OF ITEMS REPLACED WHICH IS MONEY. FRONT END LOADERS TO GOLF CARTS WHERE WE ARE RUNNING OUT OF ROOM TO PARK IT. I FINALLY WHAT ARE WE PLANNNING ON DOING WITH ALL OF THIS AND A SUPERVISOR STATED THAT THEY WERE ONLY REQURIED TO HANG ON TO IT FOR A YEAR AND THEN SELL ALOT OF IT FOR A PROFIT. i DONT HAVE A PHD BUT THIS JUST DOES NOT SOUND RIGHT. aT THE VERY LEAST IF WE GET SOMETHING IT SHOULD BE DIRECTLY TO OURJOB AND STUFF WE CANNOT AFFORD, NOT TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE SYSTEM AND WAIT A YEAR TO SELL IT FOR A PROFIT. CAN SOMEONE HELP ME CLARIFY THIS AS OF THIS POINT i HAVE REFUSED TO BE ANY PART OF THIS SITUATION AS WE ARE MAKING TRIPS AT LEAST EVERY TWO WEEKS TO BRING BACK EQUIPMENT,

    PLEASE HELP ME UNDERSTAND THIS

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