FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The violent images from Ferguson have sparked a national conversation about police agencies and their weapons. U.S. Congressmen have rallied around limiting the militarization of local police; however, local law enforcement agencies have said the program is beneficial.
The program is supposed to be able to give departments access to equipment they wouldn’t have otherwise. Bernie Beier, the Allen County Director of Homeland Security said this program keeps some smaller departments from having a public safety or officer safety issue by arming them with necessary equipment.
“It gives us this capability because we don’t have money to buy stuff like this,” Steuben County Sheriff, Tim Troyer said.
Congress authorized the Pentagon to give surplus military equipment to police in 1990 in order to help the fight against drugs, and then against the fight against terrorism. A report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that the amount of goods transferred through the military surplus program rose from $1 million in 1990 to nearly $450 million in 2013.
Indiana has received $45,378,246.04 worth of military surplus items since 1995 as part of that program, according to a spreadsheet NewsChannel 15 received from the Indiana Department of Administration.
Northeast Indiana has received more than $2 million of that equipment since 1998.
This is how it breaks down county-by-county:
- Adams - $51,232.59
- Allen – $210,184.80
- DeKalb – $156,874.74
- Huntington – $593,758.70
- Noble - $217,308.40
- Steuben - $788,822.25
- Wabash – $9,179.00
- Wells – $2,272.00
- Whitley - $9,897.65
Out of all the counties in Northeast Indiana, Steuben County received the most costly equipment. Sheriff Troyer said he applied for a forward looking infrared camera after having two cases of a missing elderly woman and missing children.
“It was a good idea, we may be able to utilize this for search and rescue…we have a 101 lakes up here a lot of rural area, so it could be a matter of life and death,” Troyer said.
However, when the department received the camera, it didn’t work. One of the challenges with the surplus program is that the equipment is older and dated. Troyer said that’s how a lot of departments rack up what seem to be a lot of line items.
“They’ll get three or four of these vehicles because they’re pretty much inoperable, and they’ll have to piece it together,” Troyer said
Departments can apply for the free equipment after sorting through a list of available items released by the Defense Logistic Agency. The departments then have to justify why they need specific equipment and conduct regular inventory checks once the it’s received. Beier said once a department is finished using the equipment they have to return it. However, he said contrary to other reports, high-grade military equipment isn’t being passed down to local law enforcement. He said, for example, if an agency receives an MRAP, an armored vehicle built to withstand roadside bombs, it’s because that’s what’s currently, readily available. He said those armored vehicles aren’t fully stocked with weapon systems. It’s mainly the shell of the vehicle being passed to down.
“The likelihood of some local department getting their hands on some big offensive military weapon that’s just not appropriate for the streets is tough to do with this program because they’re just not made available,” Beier said.
Beier said it’s also a cost benefit to the community. “Taxpayers have paid for this once,” he said. “You wouldn’t want a local government to buy new again…we’re the same tax payers.”