Modesto police account for $2.6 million of that total, having acquired everything from a cargo truck and helmets to chemical- protection suits and rifles. However, it's been a few years since the department received surplus equipment.
In 2011, Stanislaus County agencies collected more than 2,400 pieces, their highest total ever.
An "inert rocket launcher" even turns up among data obtained by California Watch. It's nonoperational weaponry the Stanislaus County sheriff's bomb squad displays to educate children about dangerous explosives, Sheriff Adam Christianson said. The launcher doesn't have a trigger and sits in the locked bomb squad truck.
The Department of Defense's equipment bazaar is another sign of how some police departments increasingly resemble small armies. Civilian law enforcement agencies have equipped themselves with assault-style weapons and even tanks, first as part of the war on drugs and later in the name of fighting terrorism.
"Law enforcement is a paramilitary organization, and we often utilize the same type of equipment that the military might use," Christianson said.
Homeland Security burden shifting to cities, counties.
$192 million given to Tennessee by the Department of Homeland Security, in the name of fighting terrorism, which paid for remote-controlled bomb-handling robots; special equipment for collapsed building rescues; high-tech surveillance cameras; all sorts of boots, masks and body armor; and food for police dogs. There was even a training seminar about how to apply for more money.
It’s all been part of a revolution in emergency management that has played out over the past decade, a monumental shifting of the financial burden for keeping Americans safe from cities and counties to the federal government.
Among the most coveted pieces is the armored Bearcat, a paramilitary vehicle with a gun turret on top and the ability to drive directly into an explosive or hazardous “hot zone.” Metro Nashville police got one funded for $89,000 and have rolled it out about 175 times since 2009, including during barricades and high-risk searches, a department spokeswoman said.
More than 10,000 purchases from 2005 through 2010 reviewed by The Tennessean also included card reader identification systems for government offices; license plate readers mounted on patrol cars, which scan for wanted vehicles; a $12,704 rolling surveillance robot for Williamson County; and Metro’s $8,988 three-wheeled stand-up vehicle, the T-3 Motion, which has carried officers about 300 times in two years. It’s zero-gas-emitting, can spin in place and is known for operating quietly.
Despite changes over the years to how authorities prioritize spending, the likelihood of an attack and the potential consequences have not warranted the bonanza, according to John Mueller, an Ohio State University political science professor and author of a book on anti-terror funding.
“Unless you have infinite budgets, the money should be paid out in a responsible manner, and it hasn’t been,” Mueller said.
It’s a probability game, he said, with the average American’s chances of being killed by a terrorist within a year at 1 in 3.5 million. When he compares that with the odds of other dangers, such as dying in a car crash — 1 in 8,000 — he questions whether the money has been well spent.
Section 1033 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1997 authorizes the Department of Defense to transfer excess military property to state and local law enforcement agencies. The eligible agencies in law enforcement activities are government agencies whose primary function is the enforcement of applicable federal, state and local laws, and whose compensated law enforcement officers have powers of arrest and apprehension. Preference is given to counter-drug and counter-terrorism activities.
Defense department to further militarize U.S. law enforcement with hundreds of military robots.
According to the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), law enforcement will be even further militarized through the use of hundreds of military robots acquired by the Department of Defense over the past decade.
According to the head of the eastern team of DLA’s disposition services office, Dan Arnold, the older and more heavily used items will likely be robots for explosive ordnance disposal and surveillance, although some of the hardware is nearly brand new and never been deployed overseas.
According to National Defense, Arnold said to the attendees of the GovSec conference in Washington, D.C., that these robots are just one instance of the surplus equipment that will likely become available as the conflict in Afghanistan supposedly winds down.
These items will be available to absolutely any law enforcement agency, be they federal, state or local, so long as they have a counter-narcotics or counterterrorism mission of some kind.
Arnold said that they are still working out the final details with the Army’s Tank Automotive, Research and Development Command out of Warren, Michigan.
He said that they expect these surplus robots to be available as soon as this summer.
Similarly, through the 1706 Program, non-law enforcement agencies can acquire equipment as well.
Some of the equipment isn’t quite as exciting as a military helicopter, like office equipment, refrigerators, furniture, exercise equipment and other items which were used on the insular communities that are military bases.
“If your mind can think of it, it comes through our agency,” Arnold boasted.