Local law enforcement agencies take advantage of federal military surplus program

The Quincy Police Department mobilized its Emergency Response Team on July 21 during a search for robbery suspects near the Illinois Veterans Home. (H-W File Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: Aug. 20, 2014 9:22 am Updated: Sep. 3, 2014 10:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

With much fanfare, the Adams County Sheriff's Department announced the arrival five years ago this month of an armored personnel carrier it received as a hand-me-down from the federal government.

However, the vehicle has primarily served as a display piece. It has been deployed just twice -- for a shooting in June 2011 in Kingston and for a person who barricaded himself in his house in November 2009. It also has been used in training exercises.

"We get a lot of requests for it to be displayed at various events like Fishing for Freedom and on Veterans Day," Adams County Sheriff Brent Fischer said.

Images of local law enforcement equipped with what appears to be full military gear in Ferguson, Mo., have been shocking to many. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., says he plans to introduce legislation when Congress returns in September to curb what he describes as an increasing militarization of police agencies across the country.

"Our Main Streets should be a place for business, families and relaxation, not tanks and M16s," Johnson said last week. "Militarizing America's Main Streets won't make us any safer, just more fearful and more reticent."

Johnson said his bill would limit the kinds of military equipment that can be transferred to local law enforcement agencies and require states to certify they can account for all equipment received.

He said he is disturbed by reports that some weapons and other equipment distributed to police agencies have gone missing. He also expressed concern that the trend toward militarizing has moved beyond local police departments and sheriff's offices, saying Ohio State University recently acquired a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle.

"Apparently, college kids are getting too rowdy," Johnson said.

Johnson, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, cites a 24-year-old program that lets local police agencies acquire for free surplus military equipment ranging from blankets and bayonets to tanks. An Associated Press investigation last year found that a large share of the $4.2 billion in surplus military gear distributed by the program since 1990 went to police and sheriff's departments in rural areas with few officers and little crime.

Adams County is one of six counties in the area -- and one of hundreds nationwide -- which have benefitted from a program that sees items used by the U.S. military trickle down to local law enforcement agencies.

According information compiled from Pentagon records by The New York Times, Adams County has received the most in surplus military gear from the federal government locally. In addition to the armored personnel carrier, the county received 15 assault rifles.

The New York Times' story says the county has received 30 pistols as part of the program, but Fischer said that is not true.

"We've been able to get a lot of items for nothing," Fischer said. "When we received the rifles, all we had to do was pay for shipping. There aren't too many places where you're going to get that kind of deal and find equipment that is new or even unused.

"We can't sell it either. If we don't want something or need it any more, we have to give it back to the program, and they would issue it to another jurisdiction."

Fischer said his department also has received computers, monitors, generators, lockers, clothing items and night vision goggles from the program. He added that the Adams County coroner's office received a cooler for use in investigations.

While the Quincy Police Department has not benefited from the federal program, it did acquire a humvee through a state program in May 2012 at no cost.

Deputy Chief Doug VanderMaiden said the humvee is used sporadically by the city's emergency response team. This year, the emergency response team has been deployed twice -- once for to serve a high-risk search warrant and once during a July manhunt near the Illinois Veterans Home.

VanderMaiden said the emergency response team was deployed six times during 2013. He said the humvee also has been used in bad weather situations like floods and heavy snows.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.



According to information compiled from Pentagon records by The New York Times, six area counties have acquired surplus military gear from the federal government. Here's a look at what each county has received. The gear could be used by either state, county or local agencies in the county:

Adams County: 15 assault rifles, 1 armored vehicle.

Hancock County: 5 assault rifles, 3 pistols.

Lewis County: 1 assault rifle.

Pike County, Ill.: 3 assault rifles, 3 pistols.

Pike County, Mo.: 19 assault rifles, 1 night vision piece.

Scotland County: 1 night vision piece.