This week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced President Donald Trump's plan to distribute military gear to state and local law enforcement agencies. The rule change means weapons typically reserved for war-time use – tracked armored (tank-like) vehicles, weaponized aircraft and vessels, grenade launchers, bayonets, and firearms with ammunition of .50-caliber or higher – will start flowing to local law enforcement agencies through the Department of Defense’s 1033 Program.
Yes, the story is familiar. In 2016, we sounded the alarm
at Forbes about the Obama administration sending heavy weapons to local police departments. We noted that people of good faith on both the left and right were raising serious concerns
regarding civil liberties and the growth of government.
Today, the same questions are valid: What’s the legitimate law enforcement purpose for these weapons? Does the militarization of local police threaten our civil liberties?
our OpenTheBooks interactive map for all weaponry transferred to the 6,500 local, state and other federal police agencies across America since 2006. See it all – in your hometown, park district, forest preserve, junior college, university, county, state police – or federal agency such as Homeland Security, Interior and the Justice Department – across any ZIP code!
What military gear will you find
in your local police department? Here’s a sample of our findings:
- In Illinois, the College of DuPage received 14 fully automatic M16 rifles. The police department in Wheaton (pop. 53,000) picked up 68 M16 and M14 rifles plus five pistols (.45 caliber). Evanston – a small community known to promote gun control ordinances – procured 20 M16 rifles.
- Paducah County, Kentucky, (pop. 25,000) received 78 M16 rifles and one mine-resistant vehicle while the Georgetown Police Department (pop. 33,000) procured 77 M16 and M14 rifles, 40 pistols (.45 caliber), and one mine-resistant vehicle.
- In California, the Cotati Police Department (pop. 7,500) received 13 M16 rifles and Del Norte County (pop. 27,000) received 25 M16 rifles. The Los Angeles County Sheriff Department procured $3.6 million in surplus equipment including 768 M16 rifles.
- In Ohio, the Department of Natural Resources received 240 fully automatic M16 and M14 rifles. Why? To enforce hunting laws?
- Mine-resistant armored vehicles (49) were transferred to many small towns and counties in Florida including Baker County (pop. 27,000), Leesburg (pop. 22,400), Hallandale Beach (37,113), and Suwannee County (pop. 43,000).
Even sovereign Native American police agencies are procuring serious military gear. Here are some examples:
- In Oklahoma, the Comanche Nation Police Department received nearly $3.5 million in military gear including mine-resistant vehicles, military cargo trucks, tractor trucks and night vision goggles.
- The Chickasaw Nation Lighthorse Police received nearly $435,000 in gear including mine-resistant vehicles, infrared illuminators, night vision goggles, a mine-detecting set, and thermal sights.
- The Cherokee Nation Marshal Service received two mine-resistant vehicles ($1.1 million).
- In Colorado, the Indian Tribes Police Department received a helicopter worth $190,817.
Last year, citizen outrage helped shut down a local police department
in Illinois after we released
our OpenTheBooks Snapshot Report – The Militarization of Local Police Departments
. We revealed that the police in London Mills (pop. 381) acquired $201,445 in military equipment including rifles, generators, trucks, and Humvees.
Here is an updated summary of the 1.5 million pieces of military weaponry and equipment distributed to law enforcement agencies from 2006 through June 30, 2017:
- 7,828 trucks ($458.9 million), 865 mine-resistant vehicles ($593 million); 502 helicopters ($170.2 million); 335 armored cars and trucks ($22.5 million); and 57 airplanes ($293.5 million).
- 83,122 M16/M14 rifles (5.56mm and 7.62mm) ($31.2 million); 8,198 pistols (.38, .40, and .45 caliber) ($491,769); and 1,385 riot 12-guage shotguns ($25,357).
- 20,297 night-vision sights, sniper scopes, binoculars, goggles, and image magnifiers ($108.2 million); 6,388 infrared, articulated, panoramic and laser telescopes ($2.1 million).
- 875 mine detecting sets, marking kits, and probes ($913,044) and 58 grenade launchers ($41,683).
- 6,020 bayonets ($308,175) and 57 swords and scabbards.
Florida ranks first among states in the receipt of military gear since 2006 (more than $292 million in gear). Items include 4,198 transfers of M16 and M14 rifles (5.56mm and 7.62mm) across the state. For example, the state highway patrol received 1,815 M16/M14 rifles, plus six military-armored vehicles, three Mine Resistant Vehicles and three Complete Combat/Assault/Tactical Wheeled Vehicles.
Over the past 18 months, however, Tennessee has led the charge by receiving $52 million in military equipment. In just 18 months, 26 mine-resistant vehicles have been distributed to small town police departments in Tennessee such as Waverly (pop. 4,100); Pigeon Forge (pop. 6,200); Perry County (pop. 7,900); Lenoir City (pop. 9,100); and Brownsville (pop: 9,780).
California has received nearly $43 million while Texas and Alabama have procured about $33 million each.
In the first five months of 2017, local and state law enforcement agencies received mine-resistant vehicles, taser guns, rifles, bayonets, armored vehicles, helicopters and thousands of other types of military equipment. The Department of Defense distributed 275,999 pieces of surplus military equipment worth $127 million.
This week’s policy change announced by AG Sessions puts prohibited war weapons back on the table. It is therefore more important than ever that citizens investigate and ask hard questions of their local police departments.
We must demand answers: What is the legitimate public purpose for local police agencies to possess military weaponry? Is this in best interests of taxpayers? And is it in the best interests of our civil liberties?