10 Insane Things the Pentagon Gave to Local Law Enforcement

The DoD has distributed everything from "extreme cold weather drawers" to San Diego police to grenade launchers to cops in a small Iowa county.  

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Police in Ferguson clad in SWAT gear watch protestors August 9, 2014. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

The Department of Defense Excess Property Program has seen a lot of criticism lately as news surfaces about how local police departments are using the Pentagon's extras. Pentagon equipment used by the St. Louis County Police in Ferguson, Missouri—the scene of civil unrest following the shooting of Michael Brown—includes multiple $47,000 trucks and scores of military rifles. The New York Times highlighted the program and produced an interactive graphic to show the flow of weapons from Defense to police. According to the Times, the program started as a countermeasure to high crime in the 1990s.

Using data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and covering 2006-2014, we looked into the type and cost of equipment that local law enforcement has been receiving from the Pentagon. Items ranged from aircraft (some costing over $5 million each) to screws and washers (36 cents each). Most of the equipment filtering down to local law enforcement will not surprise the average citizen—mostly rifles, handguns, and related equipment—but we found a lot of questionable line items.

1. 240 pair of "DRAWERS, EXTREME COLD WEATHER" for a total cost of $1,770.65. San Diego County, California.

La Jolla Beach, San Diego (kan_khampanya/Shutterstock.com

The documentation on just where the equipment goes is not clear, so a lot of the equipment could be used in county jails, by county or city law enforcement, or any other number of places. But one thing's for sure: Almost no one in San Diego County, California, needs underwear for "extreme cold weather." San Diego is one of the most pleasant places in the world, weather-wise, with a year-round average temperature of 75 degrees.

2. 200 pairs of "SOCKS" for a total cost of $468. Wichita County, Texas.

The Pentagon gave or sold a lot of socks to different counties. The document contains 175 line items with the word "socks" in them, with nearly every state receiving the all-important garments. Wichita, Texas, received 200 pairs of Pentagon-issued socks, presumably for inmates at the James V. Allred Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Otherwise, law enforcement in Wichita County is swimming in socks.

3. 18 units of "HAMMER, HAND" for a total cost of $2,683.86. Oakland County, Michigan.

Oakland County is part of the Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, Michigan, Metropolitan Statistical Area and has a population of 1,202,362, but that does not explain why the local law enforcement needed to receive 18 hammers from the Defense Department at an average cost of $149.10 each. Considering Sears sells a Craftsman hammer for a quarter of the same price, it seems odd that the Pentagon is buying hammers at such a price in the first place.

4. One "1996 FORD EXPLORER" for a total cost of $24,500.00. Estill County, Kentucky.

The notion that a county of 15,000 could need a police department sport utility vehicle is completely reasonable, but at issue is the specific vehicle. In 2012, Estill County received a Ford Explorer valued at $24,500, which is more than 11 times the current Kelly Blue Book value for a 1996 Ford Explorer (just over $2,100).

5. One "BOAT, FISHING" for a total cost of $100.00. Aroostook County, Maine

Aroostook got $7,441,065.48 worth of equipment from the Pentagon—including 65 rifles, 25 pistols, and a $138,870 truck. It appears the Aroostook is the second-largest county by geography in the United States, but it's very curious that "the county" received a fishing boat from the Defense Department. One wonders how that aids in law enforcement activities.

6. 58 "HELICOPTER, UTILITY" for a total cost of $53,491,640.00. Brevard County, Florida.

(Brevard County Sheriff)

As highlighted in pieces in the Times, helicopters are a popular item. The District of Columbia received five helicopters, Los Angeles County received one, and even Stephens County, Oklahoma—population 45,000—received one. However, the Space Coast's Brevard County got a mind-boggling 58 helicopters from the Pentagon. The department even features its aviation unit online

7 (tie).
1 "MINE RESISTANT VEHICLE" for a total cost of $733,000.00. Dekalb County, Georgia.
1 "MINE RESISTANT VEHICLE" for a total cost of $412,000.00. Montgomery County, Kansas.
3 "MINE RESISTANT VEHICLE(s)" for a total cost of $1,236,000.00. Honolulu County, Hawaii.

John Oliver's Last Week Tonight highlighted a video from the police in Doraville, Georgia, located in Dekalb County, showing off the police department's mine-resistant vehicle. It could be this one that nearly cost three quarters of a million dollars, shown in the video during a training exercise.

Dekalb County is not the only county to receive such a vehicle. The phrase "MINE RESISTANT VEHICLE" occurs 341 times in the document, suggesting the Pentagon had a huge excess of such vehicles after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Honolulu County, Hawaii, received three mine-resistant vehicles, despite the fact that Hawaii rates 36th in crime in the United States and does not have a problem with landmines.

Perhaps most curious is the acquisition of such a vehicle in Montgomery County, Kansas. Montgomery County is only the seventeenth-most populated county in the state of Kansas and is over 100 miles from the state's largest city: Wichita.

8. 92 pairs of "SNOWSHOES" for a total cost of $6,191.60. El Paso County, Texas.

Several counties received snowshoes from the Pentagon's excess equipment (including counties in Idaho, Montana, and Illinois)—but El Paso County, Texas While El Paso does get some snow because of its elevation, the county has a median snow measurement of 0 inches, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The likelihood that law enforcement would need to wear snowshoes is low.

9. One "TRUCK, ARMORED" for a total cost of $65,070.00. Lincoln County, Montana.

Lincoln County is a heavily wooded area on the Canadian border, with a sparse population of just under 20,000 people. It's also an area of low crime, which makes one wonder why a local police department received a $65,000 armored vehicle. Fear of invasion from the Royal Mounted Police?

10. Five "LAUNCHER, GRENADE" for a total cost of $3,600.00. Buena Vista County, Iowa

A Marine trains with a grenade launcher at Camp Pendleton in 2013. (Defense Department)

In a competition for the most well-equipped police department in the United States, Iowa's Buena Vista County Sheriff's Office must be near the top. The BVCSO is responsible for all law enforcement in the county of 20,000 and now certainly has the weaponry to do so. The BVCSO received two mine-resistant vehicles, four sets of night-vision goggles, 20 rifles, nine handguns, and eight shotguns from the Pentagon, among 180 line items in the document.

But the five grenade launchers are a bit shocking. Buena Vista County is not known for being a war zone; rather, it is a group of small communities in northwest Iowa. The need for multiple grenade launchers anywhere outside a war zone is questionable, but it's truly ridiculous for the BVCSO, considering its last two press-release-worthy law enforcement actions included a capsized boat and a traffic accident.

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All of these line items bring up a host of other questions about the Pentagon's program. First, is training included for this weaponry? The spectre of improperly trained St. Louis County law enforcement has been raised in the reporting on the situation in Ferguson. And what about maintenance? Does Brevard County have a trained helicopter mechanic for its 58 helicopters?

But mostly: Who in the Pentagon approved these transfers? Defense spokesman John Kirby told reporters this week that the equipment "is made available to law enforcement agencies, if they want it and if they qualify for it." That statement suggests that someone in the Pentagon looked at an application from Buena Vista County for five grenade launchers and did not bat an eye.

This post originally appeared on Government Executive, an Atlantic partner site.

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About the Author

  • Ross Gianfortune is a senior web producer at Government Executive. He previously worked at The Washington Post, The Gazette Newspapers, and WXRT Radio.