The Pentagon has an awful lot of leftovers, but luckily for law enforcement agencies across the United States they aren’t going to waste.
Millions of dollars’ worth of military gear is distributed to local police forces on an annual basis, and these regular exchanges are occurring from coast to coast in towns and cities that are hardly considered epicenters of violent crime, let alone on par with the foreign warzones where these hand-me-downs — machine guns, armored cars and other made-for-battle items — were originally intended to be used.
Over the weekend, the New York Times took a look at some staggering statistics concerning a Congress-created military-transfer program in which items in the Department of Defense’s massive inventory are routinely supplied to small-town police departments for free.
The program is far from new — it dates back to the early 90s, the Times acknowledged — and has been investigated by RT in the past more than once. New data from the Pentagon that has been provided to the paper offers an updated look, however, revealing the actual extent to which heavy-duty war supplies are shipped today to small police departments where one might not normally expect a camouflaged mine detector or silenced machine gun to be needed.
Since 2006, a total of 432 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicles, or MRAPs, have been handed out by the feds to state and local law enforcement agencies in most of the 50 states. Usually costing close to a million dollar apiece, those vehicles were intended for battle in the likes of Afghanistan and Iraq. With those operations largely over, though, a surplus of like-new, barely used MRAPs have been handed out by the hundreds to police departments desiring an armored multi-ton vehicle equipped to withstand a serious shelling.
Last November the New York Daily News reported that 165 MRAPs had been handed out to these agencies in less than half a year, and around 731 more vehicles were requested by police after the Pentagon ran out. In most reported incidents, the recipient appears to pay nothing more than the cost of shipping.
“It’s armored. It’s heavy. It’s intimidating. And it’s free,” Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple — the head of one of five New York county sheriff’s departments to receive last year’s shipments — told the Daily News at the time.
Then in January, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Pentagon has roughly 13,000 mine-resistant, ambush-protected trucks to part with “because they have outlived their original purpose.”
“We’ve notified our friends and allies that we have MRAPs available and if they want them they can have them,” Alan Estevez, deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisitions, technology and logistics, told the Journal.
This outstanding surplus — coupled with the wants and wishes of police chiefs who feel ill-equipped to handle a high-intensity standoff — has helped move these made-for-war machines into towns that far well below the national average with regards to crime.
Handing MRAPs and other war weapons over to police departments is one of the more affordable options, as well. RT reported previously that surplus MRAPs are being sold for scrap in Afghanistan, but even then it costs around $12,000 to demilitarize each one. Earlier this year, Defense News reported that the US military were destroying roughly $7 billion worth of material in Afghanistan, including MRAPs, as US troops were readying their exit.
Used goods from the Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and elsewhere aren’t the only sources of these exchanges, though. One town in Indiana, for example, was supplied a MRAP with only eight miles on it and a brand new engine, according to the recipient.
According to the latest report from New York Times journalist Matt Apuzzo, MRAPs and other military equipment have been handed down to state and local law enforcement agencies in huge numbers.
“During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft,” Apuzzo wrote.
Also in that inventory of slightly-used or good-as-new goods are M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and more — all going to towns many Americans would be hard pressed to find on a map or globe.
Since 2008, Apuzza reported, nearly 900 MRAPs and other armored vehicles have been handed out by the Pentagon to police agencies, as well as 533 aircraft, 93,763 machine guns and 180,718 magazines.
Six states have received magazines from the military that can hold a minimum of 100 rounds, he added, and agencies in 22 states total have even been given land mine detectors. Eight agencies in just the state of Indiana have been awarded MRAPs, and the Times noted that law enforcement in 38 states have received silencers from the Pentagon — including police in Walsh County, North Dakota, where only roughly 11,000 residents live.
Last year, an investigation by the Associated Press revealed that “a disproportionate share” of $4.2 billion in Pentagon property handed out by the Defense Department military surplus program since 1990 was “obtained by police and sheriff’s departments in rural areas with few officers and little crime.”
In Neenah, Wisconsin, for example, Apuzza wrote that the town of only 25,000 now has its only MRAD, despite being far below the national average with regards to crime.
“It just seems like ramping up a police department for a problem we don’t have,” one local father told the reporter. “This is not what I was looking for when I moved here, that my children would view their local police officer as an M-16-toting, SWAT-apparel-wearing officer.”
But Neenah Police Chief Kevin E. Wilkinson and others in his shoes in small towns say that acquiring these items are meant to bolster safety—the penultimate goal for law enforcement.
“We’re not going to go out there as Officer Friendly with no body armor and just a handgun and say ‘Good enough.’” Wilkinson told the Times.
In many towns, getting these goods from the Pentagon is the only affordable option. Capt. Vic Wahl of Madison, Wisconsin told the AP recently that he would have preferred a more traditional civilian rescue unit for his agency’s arsenal but the problem, he said, is “they don’t give them away.”
“The price was right for this one,” Wahl said of a free MRAD his office acquired in lieu of spending a quarter-of-a-million dollars on a less-militarized BearCat vehicle.
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