Higher-risk law enforcement missions often require specialized equipment. And one place to get that equipment on the cheap is from the federal government.
When military vehicles have exhausted their lifespan for the Army, Marine Corps or other service branches, they're decomissioned, demilitarized and offered to American law enforcement agencies for tactical missions.
Agencies such as the Merced County (Calif.) Sheriff's Department, use armored trucks to reach the remote fields where marijuana growers cultivate their crops. The Nashville Police Department used inflatable boats to reach stranded victims during the 2010 flooding.
Law enforcement agencies with these special missions can apply for and acquire vehicles deemed military surplus for next to nothing from the Department of Defense's 1033 program.
The National Defense Authorization Act of 1998 included Section 1033, authorizing the secretary of defense to transfer excess property from the Department of Defense to law enforcement agencies. This resulted in the creation of the Defense Logistics Agency, which handles the transfer, or disposition, of the property via the Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO). The program was initially set up to aid counter-drug investigations.
Agencies use a Web portal to search for the vehicles, and then put in requests stating their case. The vehicles are then given out in an "as-is" condition, Sgt. Russ Gibson of the California Emergency Management Agency tells POLICE Magazine.
"They run the whole gamut of needing just a little TLC to major overhauls," Gibson said. "We want to continue that lifespan for the taxpayers. We take a look at the purpose, mission, and ask if it's the right platform?"
Sgt. Gibson takes requests from California agencies, and acts as the go-between to the feds for the program.
Vehicles given out to agencies have included a range of different configurations of HMMWV (high mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicle), a Volvo bobtail truck, Zodiac boats, King Air C12 fixed-wing aircraft, an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) armored truck, semi-tractor trailer, and a Light Armored Vehicle (LAV).
Prior to the massive flooding in the Nashville area in 2010, the Nashville PD had acquired 12 Zodiac boats and three triple-rack trailers to store and move them. After repairs were completed and scrap parts were taken from several of the boats, the police department and the city's fire department had nine operational craft at the time of the flooding in early May of 2010.
Led by Lt. Steve Lewis, Nashville officers used the 15-foot inflatable F470 Zodiac boats to rescue almost 500 people in the first 72 hours of the flooding. People were rescued from second stories of buildings, from vehicles and other places where they were stranded. Two boats were sacrificed in the floods, and the agency now operates five, alongside two still in use by the fire department.
The Nashville PD has also acquired an armored car, and several OH-58 and OH-6 Bell helicopters to complement an active aviation unit.
To successfully use the program, agencies must be willing to outlay funds to repair the vehicles, Lt. Lewis tells POLICE Magazine.
"Not everything is going to come out 100 percent," Lt. Lewis said. "You have to be prepared to pay shipping costs, and pay a little bit to get it rehabilitated. If you have patience and persistence, you can do really well. But it's not a magic pill."