New Pentagon IG report finds that police don't need all those hand-me-downs of military hardware

In October 2020, the Pentagon's Inspector General released a new report titled, "Audit of Excess Property Issued Through the Department of Defense Law Enforcement Support Program." Looking into just 15 of the 8,000 US police departments who have benefitted from the $7.4 billion dollars worth of excess military gear that's been handed down to them by the Department of Defense since 1990, the IG objectively concluded what any rational human could have figured out all along: there's literally no good reason for police departments to have second-hand military equipment.

The DLA LESO Office established controls and provided excess DoD property to LEAs that enhanced their capabilities to perform law enforcement activities in accordance with the United State Code. However, 14 of the 15 LEAs we reviewed obtained controlled and uncontrolled LESO property, such as firearms and tools that were not supporting law enforcement activities. This occurred because the DLA LESO Office did not provide adequate oversight to ensure LEAs made LESO property available for use. Specifically, DLA LESO Office officials:

• focused on selecting LEAs with high quantities of firearms for the program compliance reviews and did not validate whether the LEAs were making the LESO property available for use,

• were not aware that some LEAs exceeded the established allocation limits for certain items,

• did not ensure the State Coordinators reviewed the validity of the LEA justifications for LESO property, and

• did not ensure the LEAs were aware of program requirements and best practices.

As a result of the DLA LESO Office providing property that did not support law enforcement activities, other Federal or state LEAs may unnecessarily spend funds to procure property that could be obtained through the LESO Program. In addition, the DoD may have been able to sell the excess property and use the proceeds to support DoD requirements.

In other words: not only did these police departments lack oversight and training on how to properly use and maintain this military gear, they also lacked legitimate reasons to use it. Of course, as the saying goes—when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. By extension, if all you have is a fleet of Bearcat tanks and ordinance blasters, everything's going to look like a massive conspiratorial criminal riot that needs to be shut down at any cost.

Yet, according to the report, the police departments have still received 391 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, 2,885 Humvees, 1,105 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, and more than 75,000 firearms from the Pentagon as of May 2020.

The report details how a few of the focal police departments tried to justify having the equipment. Some of them used that helicopter one time during a drug bust; one department "improved community relations" by hosting a "touch a track" even using a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) truck they'd received, which, in their minds, apparently counts as a productive use of serious military gear.

There's a lot of attention paid to one Tennessee police department in particular, which, well, here:

Selmer, Tennessee, Police Department had 18 full-time officers; however, it received LESO property from 1,912 requests. The property received included excavating equipment, 77 pairs of cold weather boots, 58 digital cameras, 115 hammers, 154 screwdrivers, 106 tape measures, 15 aircraft maintenance tool kits, 38 laptop computers, and 4 dump trucks. A Selmer Police Department official stated that approximately 80 percent of the LESO property it obtained was not used. The official added that he requested extra LESO property and stored it in case of a future need because it was free. Specifically, the Selmer Police Department requested and obtained 30 generators between 2013 and 2017 for use in the event of a disaster, but the generators are no longer available for use. The LEA official stated that some generators were not maintained and their condition deteriorated over time. Figure 7 shows containers filled with LESO property that has never been used by the Selmer Police Department and some generators that are no longer operable.

That's an 18-person police department for a town of 5,000 people that got all that stuff just because it could and then just let it all fall into disarray. Of course, in this case, it is mostly random gear. But not always:

For example, the Alpena County, Michigan, Sheriff's Office had 30 M16 rifles for 16 officers; the Meigs County, Tennessee, Sheriff's Office had 25 M16 rifles for 18 officers; and the Massillon, Ohio, Police Department had 49 M16 rifles and 49 M1911 pistols for 44 officers.

But who cares that police militarization is objectively bad for police and for society, according to science, right? Think about what would happen if police departments didn't get all of this dangerous gear that's too much handle; excluded from compliance oversight reviews; and ultimately left to rot. Then how would military contractors justify over-charging the Pentagon for the gear in the first place? Makes u think.

Audit of Excess Property Issued Through the Department of Defense Law Enforcement Support Program [Pentagon Inspector General]

The Pentagon has funneled $7.4 billion in surplus military gear to police forces that don't want or need it [Jared Keller / Task and Purpose]

Further reading:

Even Fake Law Enforcement Agencies Get Weapons of War for 'Policing' [Kanya Bennett / ACLU]

How America's police became so heavily armed [The Economist]

Police militarization fails to protect officers and targets black communities, study finds [Nsikan Akpan / PBS]

Inside the billion-dollar industry that turned local cops into SEAL Team Six [Shane Bauer / Mother Jones]

Police Forces Are Not Armies [Bloomberg Editorial Board]

Image: katesheets/Flickr (CC 2.0)