The Defense Department's excess property program provides state and local law enforcement agencies with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of unused military equipment annually. The Defense Logistics Agency, which runs the program, provided me with a dataset giving detailed numbers on every equipment transaction going back to 2006. These figures show exactly what kinds of equipment are being provided, where the equipment is going (down to the county level), and how the flow of equipment has increased dramatically over the past eight years.
Below, some key top-level findings from the data.
1. "Military equipment" means more than just guns
The dataset contains records of 243,000 transactions encompassing roughly 2.8 million individual items. Small firearms, like rifles, pistols, and grenade launchers, account for some 37 percent of the transactions, but only about 5 percent of the individual items. Weapons parts and components make up the remaining items, along with vehicles, clothing, and miscellaneous supplies.
2. The amount of military goods flowing to local law enforcement agencies has increased dramatically in recent years
In 2006, the Pentagon transferred roughly $33 million worth of goods to local agencies. By 2013 that number had risen more than tenfold, to at least $420 million. Much of this can be explained by the winding down of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As those missions ended, more surplus goods became available for domestic use.
3. Heavy armored vehicle transfers have risen dramatically as well
In 2012 the Pentagon transferred 27 mine-resistant vehicles and other armored combat vehicles to local law enforcement agencies. That number jumped more than sevenfold the following year. In 2014 so far, heavy armored combat vehicles account for nearly half of the total dollar value of gear transferred to local agencies. These figures do not account for a variety of other vehicle transfers, like four-wheel drive vehicles and run-of-the-mill armored trucks.
4. Some states are more enthusiastic participants in the program than others
Florida has scooped up $252 million worth of military equipment since 2006, making that state #1 in terms of raw dollar amounts. That's more than twice as much as Alabama, the next-highest state on the list, with $117 million. Texas, California and Tennessee round out the top five.
In order to correct for population, we can look at dollars of equipment transferred per sworn law enforcement officer in each state. By this measure Alabama is on top, receiving more than $10,000 worth of military goods since 2006 for every sworn officer in the state. Delaware is second, at a relatively modest $5,800 per officer. Tennessee, Florida and D.C. are ranked three through five, respectively.
Interestingly Alabama's neighbor, Mississippi, is one of the states receiving the least amount of goods from the program, at only $216 per sworn officer. Hawaii receives the smallest amount, at $161 per sworn officer.
|State||Sworn law enforcement officers||Total value of military goods transferred||Value of military goods transferred per sworn officer|
|District of Columbia||4,262||21,741,478||5,101|
Undoubtedly, the surplus equipment transfers are a boon to cash-strapped local law enforcement agencies. There's no reason why these organizations shouldn't avail themselves of basic supplies like tools, office equipment, clothing, and even trucks and light vehicles.
But the free flow of combat gear like assault rifles and grenade launchers, and especially the sudden steep rise in transfers of heavily armored combat vehicles, should give anyone pause. While observers have been sounding the alarm about the militarization of local police forces for decades now, the influx of these tank-like combat vehicles is a new development brought on by the end of our overseas wars.
When law enforcement agencies have these weapons in their arsenals they will be tempted to use them. And as this week's events in Ferguson, Missouri have shown, showing up to a peaceful demonstration armed with tanks and assault rifles only inflames tensions.
Fortunately if last night's events are any indication, the withdrawal of the combat troops has lightened the mood on the ground has lightened considerably. Hopefully the hundreds of other municipalities with shiny new BearCats and MRAPs in their precinct garages are paying attention.