Small-Town Cops Stocking up on Surplus Military Gear
In 2011 alone, more than 700,000 items were transferred to police departments for a total value of $500 million. This year, as of May 15, police departments already acquired almost $400 million worth of stuff.
Not all of it is going to police, but unfortunately the Pentagon doesn’t really know where it’s going
Last year’s record would have certainly been shattered if the Arizona Republic hadn’t revealed in early May that a local police department used the program to stockpile equipment – and then sold the gear to others, something that is strictly forbidden. Three weeks after the revelation, the Pentagon decided to partly suspend distribution of surplus material until all agencies could put together an up-to-date inventory of all the stuff they got through the years.
Of course, local law enforcement is not qualified to use this equipment
A second effort, which gives federal grants to police departments to purchase equipment, is still ongoing, however. According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, since 9/11, the grants have totaled $34 billion. Which means billions of dollars’ worth of military gear are in the hands of small-town cops who neither need the equipment nor are properly trained to use it, critics charge. At best, it’s a waste of resources (since the gear still has to be maintained). At worst, it could cost lives.
and it’s not clear why they want it in the first place
Take the 50-officer police department in Oxford, Alabama, a town of 20,000 people. It has stockpiled around $3 million of equipment, ranging from M-16s and helmet-mounted infrared goggles to its own armored vehicle, a Puma. In Tupelo, Mississippi, home to 35,000, the local police acquired a helicopter for only $7,500 through the surplus program. The chopper, however, had to be upgraded for $100,000 and it now costs $20,000 a year in maintenance.
The nonchalance of the people buying the equipment is chilling
“We tell all of our taxpayers around here: ‘You paid for this equipment once, when the federal government bought it, you pay for it once, you might as well use it.”
All of this is seems to be a natural outgrowth of the militarization of police that we have already seen in big cities.
“There’s been an unmistakable trend toward more and more militarization of American law enforcement,” Norm Stamper, former Chief of the Seattle Police Department… During his tenure in Seattle, he clamped down on the WTO protests in 1999, the infamous “Battle in Seattle.” It’s a response he now calls “disastrous.”
According to Stamper, having small local police departments go around with tanks and military gear has “a chilling effect on any effort to strengthen the relationship” between the community and the cops. And that’s not the only danger. “There’s no justification for them having that kind of equipment, for one obvious reason, and that is if they have it, they will find a way to use it. And if they use it they will misuse it altogether too many times,” said Stamper.
(via Small-Town Cops Pile Up on Useless Military Gear | Danger Room | Wired.com)