The program provides police departments and other law enforcement agencies with military equipment ranging from guns and helicopters to computers and air conditioners, and even toilet paper. The equipment is cheap or free for law enforcement agencies to acquire, but much of it comes with strict rules that prohibit it from being sold and dictate how it must be tracked.
The military decided to conduct a “one-time, clean sweep” of all state inventories instead of reviewing them piecemeal, said Kenneth MacNevin, a spokesman for the federal agency. While some gear, including guns, has been stolen or otherwise vanished over the years, MacNevin said the reporting requirements aren’t new and that the review wasn’t prompted by anything specific.
“Leadership decided to make sure we have a good, full accounting for all of this,” he said. “We’re not doing this based on any thought there’s a problem. We’re doing it because accountability is accountability.”
But MacNevin said a pair of news media reports and a weeks-long series of AP requests for records were factors in the decision to send letters to the states last month ordering them to comply with program rules or face suspension. Only New Hampshire didn’t get a letter; State Police Maj. Russ Conte, the state’s liaison for the surplus program, said his office had completed an accounting of the equipment it has received.
The Arizona Republic reported last month that the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office has stockpiled millions of dollars’ worth of equipment through the program, distributing some of the gear to non-police agencies, and intended to sell other property, which would violate the program’s rules.
“I don’t have any info on if something triggered” the Defense Department’s recent order, Matt Van Camp, a police detective in Payson, Ariz., who coordinates that state’s program, told the AP in an e-mail. “All I know is Arizona is 100 percent compliant on weapons inventory.”
A report in March by California Watch, which was founded by the Center for Investigative Reporting, found that California police accumulated more equipment during 2011 than any other year in the program’s two-decade history. That follows the overall trend in the program, which last year doled out almost $500 million in gear, up by more than double from the year before.
Tim Hoyle, another spokesman for the Battle Creek, Mich.-based Defense Logistics Agency, said all weapons will be withheld until the accounting is completed.