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HesperiaStar.com
  • PUBLIC SAFETY

    Military equipment flows to local law enforcement

    Federal program has sent $5.8 million in weapons, vehicles to SB County
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  • San Bernardino County law enforcement agencies have been the beneficiary of more than $5.8 million worth of surplus military equipment since 2006, including rifles, firearm silencers, bayonet knives and a mine-resistant vehicle, according to recently-released data that details such transfers by a federal program to U.S. counties.
    Released last week by the New York Times via its GitHub page, the report shines a spotlight on a program that has sparked a national debate recently over whether local police agencies have become too militarized.
    News footage and photos of police officers outfitted in paramilitary gear clashing with protesters in Ferguson — a largely black suburb of St. Louis with a mostly white police force — have provided new impetus to efforts to rein in the U.S. Department of Defense’s 1033 Program.
    Authorities here were also gifted a cargo transport airplane, utility helicopters, ballistic goggles and flash and hand grenade pouches, the data showed. The shift in ownership of these and other similar items can be attributed to the 1033 Program, which provides excess equipment to local law enforcement to use in counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism operations.
    St. Louis County, which includes Ferguson, has received a dozen 5.56mm rifles, a half-dozen .45-caliber pistols, night-vision goggles and a bomb-disposing robot in recent years, the defense agency said.
    In San Bernardino County, the program has distributed 94 5.56mm rifles, 20 7.62mm rifles, 27 bayonet knives, four utility helicopters, a cargo transport airplane and more than 1,300 ballistic goggles to local agencies in the last eight years, according to the data.
    The county also has received more run-of-the-mill items, such as trousers, gloves, boots, sleeping bags, field packs and ammunition.
    The largest law enforcement agency in the county is the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, and there are smaller municipal police forces within the county limits (such as the Barstow Police Department). The data doesn’t clarify which specific agency received each item.
    San Bernardino County Sheriff’s spokesman Randy Naquin on Thursday couldn’t immediately provide details on the department’s relationship with the program.
    The 1033 Program is just one of several federal programs that provide such equipment to local police. The Homeland Security Department offers grants for armored vehicles and other equipment, while the Justice Department provides grants for rubber bullets, tear gas and other equipment used to control crowds.
    Since the 1033 Program’s inception in 1997, it has transferred more than $5.1 billion worth of property to more than 8,000 participating agencies, according to the program’s facilitators, Law Enforcement Support Office.
    On the LESO website, the agency said the program’s upside includes increasing law enforcement capabilities, expanding patrol coverage, reducing response times and saving taxpayers’ investment.
    Last week, President Barack Obama ordered a review of the program in response to the unrest in Ferguson.
    — Daily Press Staff Writer Shea Johnson and Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.
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