US defense program gives local police surplus military gear
Posted August 18, 2014
Hillsborough, N.C. — Military-style riot gear used by police in Ferguson, Mo., has some asking if a U.S. Department of Defense program that gives local law enforcement agencies military surplus supplies and equipment is a good idea.
Approximately 13,000 law enforcement agencies across the country, including those in Durham, Orange and Wake counties, have accepted more than $4 billion in equipment since 1990 under the 1033 Program.
The program permits the Defense Department to transfer, without charge, items ranging from first-aid supplies and blankets to computer and photographic tools to weapons and vehicles that are no longer needed by the military.
But critics of the program worry that it could be overused and cause more tension.
"There's probably too much equipment, and we need to re-think some of the federal programs and the style of the equipment," Sarah Preston, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said Monday.
"Some of this equipment may be appropriate, but a lot of it – in a situation where you're just seeing a protest or something nonviolent – this just escalates and puts people at danger," she added.
Orange County Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass says the gear and supplies are invaluable for his office and that the 1033 program has saved taxpayers "an enormous amount of money."
Among the items the sheriff's office has received is an RV that Pendergrass says is used as a mobile command post, 10 pickup trucks and a Humvee that's used for rescues in adverse weather and to transport emergency personnel and equipment.
Smaller supplies include blankets that are used in jails and during weather-related incidents.
Heavy-duty gear – including an armored vehicle and firearms – Pendergrass says, is reserved for only the most serious incidents.
The sheriff's office has had the armored vehicle for about 10 years, but it has only used it once during a hostage situation.
"We would not have that equipment out on display or use it in any manner other than something like an active shooter incident," Pendergrass said.
The Chapel Hill Police Department has an armored military vehicle that's used primarily for training.
"It has never been used in an actual situation," Chapel Hill Police Sgt. Bryan Walker said. "We have to prepare for the worst-case scenario. That's our job."
The Durham Police Department has received an armored vehicle that's used as a rescue and transport vehicle and a point of cover in tactical situations, according to police department spokeswoman Kammie Michael.
Sharp shooters and other highly trained officers on the department's Selective Enforcement Team use in certain situations firearms, such as M-16s that have been converted to semi-automatic weapons.
The Raleigh Police Department received more than $21,000 in surplus military equipment – mostly in 2009 and early 2010 – including rucksacks, gun racks, gun scopes, ammo cans and wire cages – but no firearms or vehicles.
Military surplus equipment in central N.C.
A look by county of the number of military surplus equipment distributed to local law enforcement agencies. Click on a county for more details.