Some Sheriff’s offices “just want to get rid” of “obsolete” vehicles, but they all love assault weapons
Following scrutiny surrounding the Ferguson uprising earlier this month, several local law enforcement agencies have stated that they wish to return military gear which they feel was somewhat forced onto them by The Department of Defense.
That has turned out to be easier said than done however, as the counties in which the sheriff’s offices and police departments are based are being asked to absorb the cost of transporting huge armored vehicles.
The details are revealed in a report by The Washington Times, which found “a number of departments complaining about the heavy armored vehicles that have been transferred, finding them to be overkill for the jobs local law enforcement needs to do.”
For example, the sheriff’s department in Chelan County, near Seattle, was forced to take three armored, tracked vehicles at the insistence of the Pentagon, when it had only asked for one in 1999.
The ten ton trucks, which were designed to carry 107 millimeter mortars, are still owned by The Pentagon. However, the military is less than keen to take them back.
“We don’t care; we just want to get rid of them,” said Undersheriff John Wisemore. “We realized they weren’t as safe for what we were going to be using them for.”
The report also notes that in Tucson, police have mothballed two assault vehicles that the Pentagon gave them in 1996, minus the antitank defense missile systems that the huge vehicles were designed to transport.
“They are kind of broke down,” said Tucson Police Department spokesman Officer Brandon Tatum, adding that they are “obsolete.”
The department says that the vehicles, which look like tanks, are outdated and that they have upgraded to a modern SWAT vehicle that resembles a security or bank truck.
In Tom Green County, Texas, the San Angelo Police Department admits that the gear it has received from the Pentagon is totally unsuitable for policing. “Apparently, the administration in 1998 believed that this could be used as an armored personnel carrier for our SWAT team.” said Officer Tracy Gonzalez. “It has never been utilized, nor has it ever left our training facility,” she added. “It was used years ago in training scenarios, but that was the extent of the use. It is very apparent that the vehicle itself is not conducive for a SWAT approach, and the fact that it is a tracked vehicle further made it unusable in our urban area. The tracks would tear our streets up.”
The law allowing the military to supply police with such gear was passed by Congress over twenty years ago. Since that time, law enforcement departments everywhere have been receiving armored vehicles, as well as high grade weapons such as M16 machine guns and even grenade launchers under Section 1033 of the transfer program.
Missouri police are facing a $40 million lawsuit following their actions in Ferguson, facing complaints of “militaristic displays of force and weaponry,” (and) engaging U.S. citizens “as if they were war combatants.”
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has ordered a review of the transfer program, with some lawmakers introducing legislation to scale it back.
Make no mistake, however, many police departments are more than happy with the military transfer program, particularly lauding the weapons they have been able to acquire for virtually no cost.
“We were in need of some higher-grade weapons as far as rifles were concerned, and the military was able to provide us with some extra rifles they had,” Undersheriff Wisemore said, adding that every single deputy has a rifle in their cars now with automatic fire capability intact.
“There’s a lot of firepower out there [in the hands of] the citizens, and we don’t want to be overpowered.” Wisemore added, claiming simultaneously that the assault weapons are purely used to “protect the citizens” and that claims of police being overly militarized are bogus.
“It has been a great program. I think it’s great that the military, instead of destroying everything, offered it up to local law enforcement agencies. The comments that some are making that police are [becoming] too militarized — the public is becoming militarized in my opinion. There’s pretty high-grade weaponry out there available to the public.” the Undersheriff said.
Data released by the Pentagon in the wake of the Ferguson debacle, shows that the government has transferred nearly 80,000 rifles and 1,718 shotguns to counties throughout the US.
Los Angeles County alone has been the destination for 3,229 M16-A1 rifles and another 87 M14 rifles, while Leon County in Florida, which is home to Tallahassee, received 1,900 M16-A1 rifles and 111 M14 rifles, The Washington Times reports. All in all, it is estimated that $5.1 billion worth of excess military gear has been transferred to domestic law enforcement agencies, and that doesn’t even include similar programs run by the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department.
Police associations are ready to fight to keep the military equipment they have gotten hold of, beginning a major lobbying push this week. “We are the most vigorous law enforcement advocacy group, and we intend to be at our most vigorous on this issue,” said Jim Pasco, the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police organization in the country.