This piece was reported and written by Tom Meagher and Gabriel Dance for The Marshall Project and by Shawn Musgrave of MuckRock, an independent investigative news site.: “You may have heard that the image-conscious Los Angeles Unified School District chose to return the grenade launchers it received from the Defense Department’s surplus equipment program. You probably have not heard about some of the more obscure beneficiaries of the Pentagon giveaway:
- Police in Johnston, R.I., with a population less than 29,000, acquired two bomb disposal robots, 10 tactical trucks, 35 assault rifles, more than 100 infrared gun sights and two pairs of footwear designed to protect against explosive mines. The Johnson police department has 67 sworn officers.
- The parks division of Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources was given 20 M-16 rifles, while the fish and wildlife enforcement division obtained another 20 M-16s, plus eight M-14 rifles and ten .45-caliber automatic pistols.
- Campus police at the University of Louisiana, Monroe, received 12 M-16s to help protect the 8,811 students there (or perhaps to keep them in line).
- The warden service of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife received a small aircraft, 96 night vision goggles, 67 gun sights and seven M-14 rifles.
- Browse some of the most interesting items in our Department of Defense Gift Guide.
For more than 20 years, the Pentagon program that distributes surplus weapons, aircraft and vehicles to police departments nationwide received little attention or scrutiny. Defense Department officials closely guarded the details of which agencies across the country received which items. Then, events in Ferguson propelled the 1033 program, as the surplus distribution is called, into the public eye. Flooded with calls for greater transparency, in late November, the Pentagon quietly released data that details the tactical equipment it tracks through the program, and for the first time identified the agencies that received items. The data is a national gift list of high-caliber weapons, armored vehicles, aircraft and similar military equipment, all delivered for the price of shipping and often with little civilian oversight. The program has doled out $5 billion in equipment since 1990. Most of it was general office and maintenance equipment – shovels, copiers, computers – but the Pentagon largesse included tactical military equipment worth more than $1.4 billion, disseminated in 203,000 transfers to about 7,500 agencies. Even after Ferguson, the program continues to chug along, transferring $28 million in tactical equipment in the past three months…”