I’ve complained about this since the formation of the Homeland Security Department: Small town cops pile up useless military gear. There’s nothing wrong with getting cool things for free from the government and if I were a cop I’d want some of this stuff too. The trouble is, you give boys of any age a new toy and sooner or later they’ve just got to see if it works.
Here’s our own version of this folly, followed by a broader national perspective:
The Representative Town Meeting on Monday voted 166 to 19 to accept a $600,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security for a new, high-tech “port security” police boat capable of detecting chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive devices, as well as fighting fires.
The approval means Greenwich can now join numerous other coastal Connecticut towns that have received federal grants for similar emergency response vessels in recent years.
And here’s what’s happening elsewhere:
Small police departments across America are collecting battlefield-grade arsenals thanks to a program that allows them to get their hands on military surplus equipment – amphibious tanks, night-vision goggles, and even barber chairs or underwear – at virtually no cost, except for shipment and maintenance.
Over the last five years, the top 10 beneficiaries of this “Department of Defense Excess Property Program” included small agencies such as the Fairmount Police Department. It serves 7,000 people in northern Georgia and received 17,145 items from the military. The cops in Issaquah, Washington, a town of 30,000 people, acquired more than 37,000 pieces of gear.
[..] Which means billions of dollars’ worth of military gear are in the hands of small-town cops who neither need the equipment nor are properly trained to use it, critics charge. At best, it’s a waste of resources (since the gear still has to be maintained). At worst, it could cost lives.Take the 50-officer police department in Oxford, Alabama, a town of 20,000 people. It has stockpiled around $3 million of equipment, ranging from M-16s and helmet-mounted infrared goggles to its own armored vehicle, a Puma. In Tupelo, Mississippi, home to 35,000, the local police acquired a helicopter for only $7,500 through the surplus program. The chopper, however, had to be upgraded for $100,000 and it now costs $20,000 a year in maintenance.
The Nebraska State Patrol has three amphibious eight-wheeled tanks. Acquired almost three years ago, their highest achievement has been helping with a flood last year and with a shooting a couple of weeks ago. Overall, it has been deployed five times. At least, officers love driving them. “They’re fun,” said trooper Art Frerichs to the Lincoln Journal Star in 2010. And the ride, according to Patrol Sgt. Loveless, “is very smooth.”