Homeland Stupidity

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.