At First Glance, Distribution Of Military Surplus Is Unclear

By Nick Blumberg, Tracy Greer
Published: Thursday, October 2, 2014 - 5:05am

The federal program that transfers military surplus weapons, vehicles, and equipment to local law enforcement agencies has been getting intense public and congressional scrutiny of late. Some states and agencies receive far more surplus than others, and it's unclear why.

It doesn't seem to correlate to population. Over the last eight years, Arizona got 11 MRAPs, or mine-resistant armored vehicles. That's the ninth-most among the 50 states. But five states with a smaller population than Arizona got more MRAPs. New Mexico, for example, got 20 MRAPs.

Nor does it seem to correlate to violent crime rate. Thirteen states with a rate lower than Arizona's 428.9 per 100,000 people received more M16 rifles. Georgia, with a violent crime rate of 378.9, received 2,797 M16s while Arizona received 807.

The first step to acquiring military surplus under the federal program known as 1033 is sending a request to the state coordinator. In Arizona, that's Det. Matt Van Camp of the Payson Police Department.

One of the criticisms of 1033 has been that some agencies appear to be getting more equipment than they actually need. But Van Camp said, for example, he once got a request from a ten-person agency for 50 first aid kits.

"The agency realized that the first aid kit they received from the military is very lacking in the amount of first aid supplies in that kit, and it took them four first aid kits from the military to build one first aid kit that's usable for their officers," Van Camp said.

Police agencies pay the cost of picking up the surplus or having it shipped. The equipment's condition can range from brand new to pretty much beyond use.

Tom Cadden of the Arizona Game and Fish Department said a few years ago his agency got two surplus Cessna 404 planes.

"These were 40-year-old planes that the Border Patrol no longer wanted. They knew that we had operated a similar model, so they offered them to us, and we still use one of those planes for law enforcement flying, and the other one we use for parts for the flyable plane," Cadden said.

Congress is mulling legislation that would restrict the surplus equipment available to local agencies.

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