As riots play out in St. Louis County, Mo., reports have resurfaced that police departments are being equipped with free gear such as armored vehicles from the military. The Associated Press and others have reported that a federal program adopted in the 1990s amid the War on Drugs has channeled small arms and ammo, among other things, to local departments. In June, the American Civil Liberties Union released a 98-page report, "War Comes Home," that states the Pentagon has supplied $4.3 billion in such goods to the departments since the program began.
Colorado Springs Police Department spokesperson Lt. Catherine Buckley says the city got three helicopters from Fort Carson years ago that were grounded in 2009 due to budget cuts and have since been sold. But other goods include: five Humvees; 140 M16 A1 rifles outfitted for patrol; 14 M14 rifles, used by specialized enforcement; an ATV used for special events in parks; workout equipment used by officers at police substations; a metal box that's now used at the city's shooting range to store equipment; 50 to 100 pairs of fleece pants used by the tactical team; 50 to 100 backpacks with rain gear; sleeping bags; MREs; and optics.
"For us, that's a win," Buckley says. "It's money taxpayers have already spent, and now we get to re-purpose it for the city." She says the military catalogs what's available on a website, and departments choose what they need.
The city also obtained riot gear, such as helmets and padding, from the Department of Homeland Security when officers helped provide security for the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008, she says.
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office also has obtained weapons, according to sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Gregory White. He says the department received 44 5.56 mm rifles — based on the military M4 Carbine, and also used by Ferguson police — that are brought on patrol, and four 7.62 mm rifles used by special teams, all in 1993 or 1994, shortly after the Pentagon program started.
The sheriff's office also has obtained a cargo carrier vehicle used by search-and-rescue crews, and a snowmobile, White says. Miscellaneous military items obtained by the sheriff include sleeping bags and cold-weather jackets.