Local News

Capitol Police: Life Raft at the Ready

Posted January 22, 1996 6:00 a.m. EST

— January 23, 1996 5:36 p.m.

Visitors to state government buildings and grounds are used to seeing the Capitol Police force. They are state employees charged with protecting state employees and property.

With Raleigh situated several hours from the ocean, it may come as a surprise to learn the Capitol Police recently had in its inventory a 15-person life raft. WRAL-TV5's Stuart Watson also discovered that Capitol Police had a night vision scope, dozens of gas masks -- even an ambulance.

Capitol Police didn't buy the equipment; it was a gift from the federal government. More than five years ago, Congress told the military to send its surplus equipment to police forces to fight the war on drugs. So every month, more than $1 million in surplus is funneled to local police in North Carolina, including the Capitol Police.

Major John Massey, asked how often a vintage ambulance has been used by the Capitol Police for drug busts, said: "This piece of equipment has never been used for any type of drug enforcement as far as I know."

He said the gas masks haven't been used in the 24 years he has been on the force. Field periscopes? "I haven't used them," he said.

The state capitol police have received more than $80,000 worth of military surplus in the last three years. Number of drug arrests in that time? Four -- three for drug paraphernalia, and one for marijuana.

Director Michael Chapin seeks the surplus by letter, and has told federal officials the material is for "clandestine techniques" that are "essential to counter-drug operations."

And he acknowledged in a phone interview that, "We are not in the drug business; our cases are relatively small."

If the Capitol Police did not seek the surplus material, it would be distributed to other North Carolina police agencies, where drug arrests are a larger part of the daily workload. It also could be sold.

Neil Woodcock of Law Enforcement Support Services, the office that distributes the surplus goods, says whether the Capitol Police do a significant amount of counter-drug operations is subject to value judgment. "As long as they do some, they are good enough for me."

The life raft is no longer part of the Capitol Police inventory. When WRAL-TV5 News began asking questions about specific surplus items, it was returned. Director Chapin says he never even asked for the raft; it arrived one day in a trailer, and just sat there for months.