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Columns : Editorial

Military Surplus Gear: Abuse It and Lose It

Bad faith by some law enforcement agencies may mean the end of the Pentagon’s military surplus program.

July 10, 2012  |  by - Also by this author

Nashville Police officers used military surplus boats to rescue residents during severe flooding in 2010. Photo courtesy of NPD.
Nashville Police officers used military surplus boats to rescue residents during severe flooding in 2010. Photo courtesy of NPD.

Last month the Defense Department cut off a very valuable resource for many of the nation's 17,000 law enforcement agencies. The Pentagon's 1033 program provides cash-strapped police and sheriff's departments with free military surplus. Agencies participating in the program have received rifles, vehicles, and medical aid equipment, both new and used that Uncle Sam doesn't want anymore.

An official statement from the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) says the agency is halting further deliveries of military surplus until it finds out exactly what local law enforcement has been doing with all this stuff.

DLA has ordered state-appointed coordinators to perform an audit. As with just about any other accounting of any other government program, the final results of that audit will be good, bad, and ugly.

There is no doubt that much of this gear is a godsend for agencies that just can't afford to buy it new. Last year in a blog post on titled "Military Surplus Vehicles Aid the Fight," Web Editor Paul Clinton detailed some of the ways that surplus military gear has helped local law enforcement officers save lives and protect the public.

When Nashville flooded in 2010, local cops rescued 500 people from the rising waters. The nine 15-foot Zodiac inflatable boats they used for those rescues were military surplus procured from the 1033 program. Other agencies have used 1033 gear for routine police work, for SWAT operations, and to provide critical tools that they couldn't otherwise afford.

Which brings us to the bad. It's likely from the track record of the Department of Homeland Security grants during the last decade that some agencies have acquired military hardware from the 1033 program because they like "toys," not because they need the gear. Others have stockpiled military hardware such as crew-served machine guns that have very little use in civilian law enforcement.

Finally, there's the ugly. Some agencies appear to have abused the program in spectacular ways.

There have been published reports of agencies performing all sorts of sleight-of-hand with this gear. Local law enforcement officials have been accused of hoarding the military surplus for a variety of purposes never intended by the DLA. These include: personal use of the vehicles and firearms, currying favor with local businesses by bestowing them with gifts, supplying firefighting equipment to volunteer fire departments, and selling the gear at auction to augment agency budgets. In just one state, the DLA has revoked the 1033 privileges of more than 30 law enforcement agencies.

The agreement that local police and sheriff's agencies sign with Uncle Sam is basically a loan application. Gear procured through the 1033 program still technically belongs to the Department of Defense. However, after one year of use, it can be disposed of or sold. Some agencies have reportedly disposed of the equipment and vehicles in ways that violate that agreement.

Maybe some of these violations are caused by all the confusion that surrounds this program. Few federal government operations are as little understood as 1033.

The first widely believed misconception is that the free "toys" are in perfect condition and ready to use. That's usually not true. The "toys" are often broken, and the agencies receiving the gear have to spend hard currency to repair or overhaul them. The Zodiac boats that Nashville PD received from the DLA are an excellent example of how this works. Nashville PD acquired 12 of the boats, but only nine could be made operational. The remaining three were cannibalized for spare parts.

Another widely believed misconception is that this stuff is useless to the agencies receiving it. recently ran an article in its "Danger Room" channel saying that many of the police agencies that procure this military hardware don't have the personnel qualified to use it. Considering how many law enforcement officers have served in the military that's kind of a bizarre assumption. It’s also an assumption that the Nashville example—and the experiences of hundreds of other agencies—renders false.

Sheriffs and chiefs need to clear up the misconceptions that surround the acquisition of military surplus by local law enforcement. Go to the press and explain to them how the 1033 program has helped you and how your officers are using military surplus gear to protect the public. By suspending the 1033 program, the feds have given you a hook to sell this story to editors and reporters. Strike now while the topic is hot. Get your story out to the public, or abuse, fraud, and misuse of this gear by other agencies may spell the death warrant of this critical program.


Military Surplus Vehicles Aid the Fight

PHOTOS: Military Surplus Vehicles for LE

VIDEO: Georgia SWAT Team's Amphibious Vehicle

Comments (7)

Displaying 1 - 7 of 7

Frank @ 7/10/2012 5:35 PM

This is funny! The USG checking on abuse from LEO's across the USA.

Before you do,lets chase down the unemployment and welfare abuse from all the illegals. Dump state programs for illegals to college and what about Congress that's been getting bennies for years like flying across the USA. Pelosi! What about all the money to our supposedly foreign friends like the Packkys and money to Iran. Don't get me going on laying off LEO's in just about every state in the Union because the politicians want to turn their State into the gimme state like California. The US Military soldier and LEO's have similiar but different roles in protecting the people of this country. Yet the dam towns and States spents almost two thirds to educate Johnny and Mary and some Illegals, screw the rest of the services. I have a laundry list of money wasted by our elected politicians. I use to think Lawyers were bad! Folks this attitude comes with age and wisdom! Does anyone recall how naive you were at 19 and draft bait?

[email protected] @ 7/10/2012 8:53 PM

Frank, Right on Bro! What are they going to do with the surplus anyway? Give it to mexico? Or just ship it directly to the cartels like much of the military equipment sent to the Federales has ended up? Our own Sheriff Joe uses those really nice tents to a good end, even though many of those contained there may disagree. Anything that gives LEOs the edge should be used. Or ie this just another obuma try at a gov't run "police" force?

Greg @ 7/11/2012 4:11 AM

"Others have stockpiled military hardware such as crew-served machine guns that have very little use in civilian law enforcement."

I recall during the 68' riots several towns set a "Ma Deuce" 50 caliber up on rooftops...the locals denizens chose not to riot. Would they have used them? I'm guessing not, but the psychological effect sure did work pretty well.

-Do police forces abuse/waste some DOD stuff? Oh hell yes.

-Does DOD waste stuff? Even more than any police force has.

Is this an excuse? No, but they do need to control it better so the reporters who hate law enforcement have to make up stories instead of being given a freebie.

Searcher5 @ 7/11/2012 5:57 AM

The word has come down, the Feds will screw with Arizona in any way they can. The rest of the states are just gravy for the butts administering any federal program, but Arizona is first on their list. Anything the Feds can shift to California, one of their favorite states, they will.

Darryl.M. Bulzomi @ 7/12/2012 3:23 PM

Read this article today, copied it, was upset BUT this afteroon I received a visit from to reps. from the NLECTC, project managers they said NO the whole program is NOT SHUT DOWN it is only the arms/weapons section of it that is closed for now. You can still get vehicles, night vision etc. etc. Too much of the weapons are un-accounted for and it is alwys a small part of law enforcement that goes too far and spoil it for the rest. Some small and I am sur large departments have people that have sold much of the weapons to friends, etc, ect, or even given them away. Just like what happended with the feds supplying weapons to drug dealers in Mexico in a sort of sting operation, it came back to sting the agency when one of the weapons killed a federal agent, that possibly is what triggered them to start looking at the free weapons to police and sheriff agencies and low and behold where are they all at now??? Same thing happens in the Supream court they put some law in our favor then some officer pushes it too far, it goes back through the courts and they teighten it up with more restictions, often we do it to ourself. Our elected representitives just stand there scratching their heads. And the good guys are hung out to dry/ Anyone that has been doing this work has seen the same thing happen over and over again sometimes its in our favor, but often it is not. PS. I was working before Maranda came about and many thought that was the end of us catching the bad guys, but they still are talking and we still are arresting, go figure?

Larry @ 8/20/2012 6:57 AM

My department is a non traditional Police Department, I work for a bank Police department in Ohio, when people here bank in our police dept. name they think we have all the money in the world, truth is if they do they don’t share it with our department, so we asked the 10-33 program for a truck and some m16’s and we got a one ton truck that we put a lot of work and money into it, and made us a nice early response vehicle, and now the DOD did a audit and decided our department no longer qualifies for the 10-33 program and we have to return all items, This wipes out our ERT Team in one stroke of the pen, so I know how some of your departments feel, it was a great program for departments like ours and I hope they clean up there act and reinstate it soon. Just sorry for our loss.

John @ 8/30/2014 5:44 AM

As a combat vet why do cops in the US need to be kitted out in more battle rattle than soldiers going on patrol in active combat zones.

"Others have stockpiled military hardware such as crew-served machine guns that have very little use in civilian law enforcement."

I recall during the 68' riots several towns set a "Ma Deuce" 50 caliber up on rooftops...the locals denizens chose not to riot. Would they have used them? I'm guessing not, but the psychological effect sure did work pretty well.

This statement is a perfect example of how not to "win hearts and minds".

Since when can you justify training a 50 cal on American Citizens?

Every military member is trained in boot camp that you do not train your weapons on objects or persons that you do not intend to shoot.

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