So if I don’t want it in my neighborhood, how can I stand by while these imperial tactics are used in other parts of the city?
Free military surplus gear a boon to local Calif. law enforcement | California Watch
March 29, 2012 | G.W. Schulz and Andrew Becker
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Bob Watkins shows one of five H-3 helicopters transferred from the military. It’s now used for search and rescue and SWAT transport.
Among its fleet of helicopters, patrol cars, inmate buses and other vehicles, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department keeps four long-haul semitrailers ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Their purpose: Travel the country retrieving discarded – and free of charge – U.S. military hand-me-downs for its deputies to use in California.
M16 rifles, helicopters, microwaves, survival kits, workout equipment, bayonet knives, ammunition cans and more – the LA sheriff’s office snaps up an average of $4 million to $5 million in surplus military equipment annually.
“You name it,” said Sgt. Bob Watkins, whose unit of four deputies checks an online database every Saturday for newly available items. “Anything the military uses on a daily basis, from toilet paper to heavy equipment and everything in between – if we can use it and we can get it from them for free, it comes through our program, and our department doesn’t have to go out and buy it.”
Los Angeles County is far from alone in tapping a vast supply of free military surplus to arm and equip its officers. Public agencies and employees as diverse as Oakland school police have grabbed cast-off military goods that become available on a weekly basis.
The Department of Defense’s equipment bazaar is another sign of how aggressively some police departments increasingly resemble small armies. Civilian law enforcement have equipped themselves with assault-style weapons and even tanks, first as part of the war on drugs and later in the name of fighting terrorism.
California police accumulated more equipment during 2011 than any other year in the equipment-transfer program’s two-decade history, according to a California Watch analysis of U.S. Department of Defense data.
A total of 163,344 new and used items valued at $26.2 million – from bath mats acquired by the sheriff of Sonoma County to a full-tracked tank for rural San Joaquin County – were transferred last year to state and local agencies.
Police nationwide sought $498 million worth of equipment, including 60 aircraft and thousands more weapons than in 2010. Listed dollar amounts are based on what the military initially paid for the equipment.
More than 17,000 public agencies across the country – mostly police and sheriff, but some fire departments – have taken advantage of the equipment giveaway of an estimated $2.8 billion since Congress enacted laws in the 1990s that created the program.
For the sheriff of Orange County, it was hundreds of flashlights, exercise equipment, four trumpets and gun parts. The Vacaville Police Department in Solano County got “combat coats,” pistol holsters and water canteens. Thirty-four M16s were made available to the Elk Grove Police Department in Sacramento County last year.
The program is run online and open to law enforcement and other public agencies that sign up with the Department of Defense. Once the goods are transferred, the civilian police departments are responsible for maintenance and storage.