Police use military supply program for more than weapons

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COLUMBIA - Police departments around the country have received criticism for taking part in the U.S. Department of Defense's military hardware transfer program.The 1033 program allows local law enforcement agencies around the country to receive military equipment that's leftover or not being used. This program has recently been the subject of controversy since protesters faced off with police in Ferguson.

Despite the criticism, many local Missouri police departments participate in the program, receiving items ranging from assault rifles to armored military vehicles. However, the Department of Defense also has many non-tactical military supplies to offer through the program, and some local agencies have taken advantage of those as well.

The Lincoln University Police Department received computers, first-aid kits and even a back-up generator through the program. According to Chief Billy Nelson, the supplies saved the department thousands of dollars. The cost of the generator alone would have been nearly $20,000 without the transfer program.

"Prior to receiving the generator, the department radios would only operate for a short period on battery power, and our computers would be out of service," said Nelson. "This is one of the acquisitions I'm most proud of because it affords us the ability to remain fully functional during a power outage when the campus needs us the most."

University police departments aren't the only agencies benefiting from the 1033 program. The Columbia Police Department saved more than $40,000 on items like night-vision goggles, binoculars, sleeping bags and dumbbells for the department's SWAT team.

Officer Jeremiah Hunter with the Columbia Police Department said these items were necessary for the SWAT team to have.

"The heavy equipment and stuff, we didn't have a need for," said Hunter. "Certain pieces of equipment that we're able to utilize on a tactical sense, like the sleeping bags in colder weather. They're just things that you wouldn't think about normally but you see them available and you think, man, we really need something like that. And then we can get it right away."

County law enforcement has utilized the 1033 program to procure non-tactical supplies.

The Boone County Sheriff's Department has received nearly $60,000 of equipment through the program, and none of it was heavy armament. It received items like night-vision equipment, medical equipment, snow blowers and storage and shipping containers.

The Missouri Department of Public Safety reviews all applications for military equipment and assesses whether the items requested are justified for that law enforcement agency.

Communications Director Mike O'Connell said staff check to determine if the agency is in good standing and is in fact a licensed police agency to be approved for participation. 

"The area of the agency, the size of the agency, and the items requested in the past are also taken into consideration," said O'Connell. "For instance, if a department requests 20 sleeping bags and says they'll be put in police officers' vehicles, but the department only has five officers, it's unlikely 20 sleeping bags would be approved."

A law enforcement agency can request any amount of property as often as it wishes. The equipment becomes available to the states on a first come first serve basis. Each state is then responsible for tagging the equipment as it becomes available.

The Missouri Department of Public Safety picks up the property and delivers it to a program warehouse where it can be picked up by the requesting agency. A law enforcement agency may have to pick up larger equipment directly from a military installation.