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Local Police Gearing Up With Used War Equipment: Report

By Brett Snider, Esq. on June 10, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A great deal of military-grade war equipment is ending up in the hands of local police departments according to Pentagon data.

Even in small towns, police departments have the ability to buy surplus military gear from the federal government, often at a discount. According to The New York Times, since 2006, departments around the country have obtained "tens of thousands of machine guns" as well as "armored cars."

How exactly are local police gearing up with the leftover tools of war?

Ex-War Gear Hits Local Beats

The Times reports that despite President Obama ushering in the end of America's "long season of war," the tools of war aren't simply disappearing; instead, they're ending up in the hands of local police departments. For example, at least one police department in almost every state in the union now has a mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) armored vehicle.

In brief, here is the arsenal that the Times reports (based on Department of Defense data) has been gathered by local police since 2006:

  • 432 MRAPs,
  • 435 Non-MRAP armored vehicles,
  • Almost 45,000 pieces of night-vision equipment,
  • 533 ex-military planes and helicopters,
  • 93,763 machine guns, and
  • More than 180,000 magazines (with no ammo).

In many states, this sort of weaponry and gear would only be available to police, as assault weapons are increasingly regulated.

How Do Police Obtain Ex-Military Gear?

There isn't exactly an Amazon marketplace for ex-military weapons, but there is an online "store." Under the 1033 Program, state, federal, and local law enforcement can apply for and receive surplus military gear in order to counter drug offenses and terrorism.

There's even an online portal where qualifying agencies can "screen" (aka shop) for the military gear they want. Don't like the online experience? There are a number of Disposition Services sites which can take requests for war gear in person. The 1033 Program is supported by federal law, and has been a portal through which military gear has been "recycled" for decades now. It can be used to obtain more mundane items like laptops or weapons like M16s and M14s.

The Times notes that this Department of Defense program doesn't "push" equipment into local departments, it's more of a function of how much local law enforcement requests equipment. If the state and local departments sign off on the requests, the departments can get their night vision goggles ... or helicopters.

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