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Police benefit from castoff military gear
Armored vehicles get a new civilian life

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 04/30/07

For many law enforcement agencies in Georgia, the Pentagon has become a Costco for military surplus: quality merchandise at can't-beat-it prices.

For more than 15 years, police and sheriff's departments across the state have used the Department of Defense's excess property program to stock their arsenals with new and used equipment that ordinarily would have been out of their budgetary reach.

Doraville acquired the vehicle through the Pentagon's surplus equipment program.

The Doraville Police Department's SWAT team got an armored personnel carrier â€" worth about $400,000 when it was new a few years ago â€" at virtually no cost to taxpayers to aid officers in hostage situations.

Columbus police picked up a used helicopter last year and saved the city nearly $200,000.

Newnan police have gotten everything from M-16s to camouflage uniforms to vehicles and a boat with a motor and a trailer, much of it for counter-drug operations.

Newnan Chief Douglas Meadows estimates his department, with an annual budget of about $5 million, has received $750,000 worth of excess military equipment over the last 10 years simply by asking.

"It's a darned good program," Meadows said.

Last year, Georgia law enforcement agencies received nearly $2 million worth of surplus equipment, according to the Defense Logistics Agency, which administers the program nationwide.

That's money saved by local city councils or county commissions. And, ultimately, by local taxpayers.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than $22 million in excess equipment has come to Georgia for homeland security or drug interdiction. In most cases, the surplus equipment is outdated or has been otherwise replaced by upgrades that better fit the military's needs.

"What is made available is only excess to our needs," said Jack Hooper, a spokesman for the Defense Logistics Agency. Law enforcement agencies "are not competing with the military for these items."

Despite the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the toll they are taking on equipment, there seems to be no lack of surplus items.

In 2005, about 16,000 law enforcement agencies across the country received more than 380,000 pieces of surplus equipment. They ranged from armored personnel carriers and helicopters to desks and laptop computers.

California led all states in gobbling up the excess gear that year, with about $17 million worth, followed by Indiana with $10.5 million and North Carolina with $10 million.

"It's been a good resource for small departments with small budgets but which may have big demands," said Buzz Weiss of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, which administers the program in the state.

Federal requirements stipulate that the states must certify that the equipment be used either for homeland security or drug interdiction.

Thus, the need for such items as body armor, Kevlar helmets, night-vision devices and all-terrain vehicles.

"It gives us a capacity that as a small agency we normally wouldn't have," said Pelham Police Chief Nealie McCormick.

His South Georgia agency of 14 full-time officers and eight reservists has received M-16 rifles, camouflage uniforms, night-vision devices and generators.

The generators proved particularly useful when tornadoes swept through the area in March, knocking out electricity to thousands.

"We had a neighboring force that was operating only with candles and we were able to get them back on-line with our generators," McCormick said.

Agencies that receive surplus equipment must be able to certify in occasional audits that it is being used for the intended purpose. Weapons are monitored especially closely by federal inspectors.

But one agency can pass equipment on to another. The Coweta County Sheriff's Department obtained a surplus OH-58 Kiowa helicopter from the Georgia Department of Corrections that was in need of repairs and maintenance after it had been sitting idle for three years.

Capt. Tony Brown of the Sheriff's Department said seized drug money was used to repair and maintain the helicopter, which is often used in manhunts or to locate lost Alzheimer's patients.

"It's one of those things that, when you need it, you're really glad you have it," Brown said.

If equipment is no longer used for its intended purpose, or becomes too expensive to maintain, it reverts to federal ownership, said the DLA's Hooper. "It's not available for them to sell," he said.

Which is fine with the local law enforcement agencies.

"A lot of this stuff we can afford to maintain, but we can't afford to buy," said Pelham's McCormick.

Newnan's Meadows said: "One way to look at it is that it's recycling the taxpayers' money."
I'm sure those generators came in handy after the tornado's... but I'm still trying to figure out a justification for Georgia to buy M16's, APC's and attack helicopters for "homeland security or drug interdiction".

Maybe more like "No-knock warrants for pot dealers".

Heil Purdue!
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