Police Department With Eight Full-Time Officers Acquired 31 Military Vehicles Thru DoD's Surplus Program

from the closing-in-on-a-half-million-in-military-surplus-per-officer dept

The Defense Department’s 1033 program has allowed law enforcement to muddy the water on the distinction between police force and military force. Given the right reasoning (most commonly cited: Wars on Terror/Drugs), police departments are allowed to pick up surplus military gear, often for free (utilizing DHS grants) and start pretending they’re an occupying force, rather than public servants.

This came to a head following protests in Ferguson, Missouri, where viewers around the world were treated to the sight of local law enforcement rolling up on residents in mine-resistant vehicles while clad in gear that made officers look far more like soldiers than cops. This prompted a rollback of the 1033 program by Obama, limiting the sort of gear police departments could obtain to more innocuous surplus, like computers and furniture.

That has since changed. President Trump, showing his support for all things law enforcement, rolled back Obama’s rollback, giving police departments access to assault vehicles and military weapons. With this comes a rollback in trust, as it has been shown giving military gear to cops makes them believe they’re soldiers in a war zone, rather than public servants in a community.

Not everyone abuses this program, but those that do, do so spectacularly. An 11-member police force for a Delaware town with 400 residents has availed itself of more than $3 million in 1033 gear over the last five years. This first came to light late last year when documents obtained by Muckrock prompted town officials to wonder why they hadn’t been notified of the department’s stockpile.

When asked if the Dewey PD could account for all of the items by providing the physical location of items in their possession and paper trails for items sold, Sgt. Cliff Dempsey said, “We’re not going to comment on that matter at this time.”

On the agenda for a Nov. 11 Dewey Beach commissioners’ meeting is the discussion of three options for to the 1033 program:

1. require the DBPD to provide complete accounting for property received through any federal or surplus property program,

2. accept a recommendation from the town’s audit committee to utilize the town’s auditors, or

3. hire an independent consultant to conduct a more comprehensive review.

Some of the military equipment can be located. A recent report by the Milford Beacon contains a photo showing five military trucks and two ATVs parked in the department’s storage lot. But that is only a small part of the Dewey PD’s total holdings.

[A]mong hundreds of line items turned over between March 2013 and December 2017, the police acquired a total of 12 ATVs, 51 jackets or parkas and 13 space heaters, and 19 trucks of all kinds.

Dewey’s department has just eight full-time and three part-time officers, the town population is less than 400 people and the town itself is a just mile long and two blocks wide.

This includes a mine-resistant armored car and an armored Humvee — all to oversee 400 people residing in a one-mile, two-block stretch. The justifications for even the more innocuous acquisitions are questionable, if not downright laughable. As the Beacon points out, the Dewey PD requested boats for water rescues, something already handled by a separate beach patrol and the Coast Guard. ATVs were supposedly handed to the department for something termed “homeland security patrols.”

Many items were obtained to support the PD’s private shooting range, including multiple tractors to shore up backstop berms and parkas to wear on colder days. The location of the range is kept secret by the department and the town was not (knowingly) involved in financing its construction. This secret range is mentioned more than 50 times in the PD’s 1033 requests.

Despite this news surfacing last November, town commissioners have yet to receive any answers from the department it apparently can’t oversee.

At their Feb. 10 meeting, Commissioner Gary Persinger lamented, “We’re three months down the road and we don’t have information in response to that request.”

As of March 1, [Mayor T.J.] Redefer said had not yet been privy to the departmental justifications of need.

On top of this, the department has apparently been selling some of the surplus it has received. Certain sales are permitted by federal law, but there has been no reporting by the police department detailing the amount of money received or what is being done with the funds. The extensive list of items obtained makes it appear the Dewey PD has stocked and furnished its office at federal taxpayers’ expense while avoiding any sort of local accountability.

All of this is legal under state and federal law. In Delaware, law enforcement agencies aren’t required to notify local governments about 1033 acquisitions and sales. And so they don’t, apparently, even though it would make more sense in the long run to be upfront about it. When details about acquired military equipment remain solely in the hands of law enforcement recipients, the general assumption is something is being abused. After all, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to hide, right? But as is so often the case, details are uncovered years after the fact and often by unrelated third parties who apparently care more about police oversight than the local governments charged with overseeing their law enforcement agencies.

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Comments on “Police Department With Eight Full-Time Officers Acquired 31 Military Vehicles Thru DoD's Surplus Program”

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38 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

"Well if you don't need the money..."

As of March 1, [Mayor T.J.] Redefer said had not yet been privy to the departmental justifications of need.

If they are selling the items, and refuse to account for them, then the solution seems simple: Stop funding them.

Clearly the Dewey PD has all the resources and funding that they need thanks to the 1033 program, and as such it would be a waste to spend taxpayer dollars on them. If they want taxpayer money then they better start answering the ‘requests’ put forth to them about what they have, where it is, what they are doing with it and why they need it.

If they cannot, or will not answer basic questions like that then it’s clear they are not interested in serving the public, and as such have no business being paid by the public.

Agammamon says:

Re: "Well if you don't need the money..."

You don’t wanna do that. That funding is all that separates them from simply going full bandit-gang with civil asset forfeiture.

What I don’t understand is why all these towns and cities have no control over their appointed (not elected) law enforcement heads. Why is the police chief effectively untouchable short of a city council vote to fire him? Who the hell writes these charters?

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: "Well if you don't need the money..."

One objectively supportable rationale for having such officials be appointed rather than elected is that it insulates them from the toxicity which results from having to campaign for office.

We’ve seen what the political-campaigning environment leads to in other areas, from legislators on out; it’s easy enough to see why there would be value in being able to tell certain people “you don’t need to worry about re-election, just do your job”.

Similarly, needing a vote of the city council – rather than serving at the will of some particular elected official, e.g. the mayor, as various federal officials are at the will of the President – means not needing to worry about being fired the instant someone new gets elected to that office, because you need consensus among a broader group of officials.

The downside is that it does mean less accountability, with consequences such as those which we see here.

Sharur (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "Well if you don't need the money..."

I would hope that “we are the elected city government, who are chosen by the people to represent their interest ands govern on their behalf, and you are city employees, so when we ask you for accounting of funds, you should immediately hand over what documentation you have (and which you darn well better be keeping), followed by, if necessary, a more comprehensive and up to date list when completed in a reasonable time frame” is a thought that would be unanimously held by the entirety of the city council, and that they’d be willing to act on.

… I’m not being hopelessly idealistic, am I?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "Well if you don't need the money..."

What’s not covered in this article is that the former town manager was run out of town by the police chief when he started asking questions. Chief partnered with mega business owner Alex Pires to send a list of fake “complaints” to dozens of newspapers and start a massive smear campaign. Complaints included things like the tm goes barefoot, doesn’t wear underwear, and uses the “F” word. So now mega business owner Alex Pires has Chief in his pocket, as well as 4 out of 5 of the commissioners. It always comes down to follow the money. That’s why they’re not answering the requests and nobody is being fired.

Oh and an officer’s gun was stolen by some teenagers out of his unlocked car recently and traded for drugs.

Stay away from Dewey Beach. It’s a scary place (especially if you’re black).

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Maintenance

Seems to me that there was a discussion here some time ago about the cost of maintaining those vehicles. Something the Feds don’t fund. How is such a tiny department able to pay for the maintenance. What, they don’t maintain the vehicles, just sell them?

Just what are the rules about selling 1033 items? When are the Feds going to do something about this little cabal? Right, homeland security, better to have these guys over prepared, even if the stuff won’t work because there is no money to maintain the equipment.

cattress (profile) says:

Re: 8 full time officers for 400 people?

YES it is generally just a speed trap town. The police keep busy writing traffic tickets and harassing pedestrians for jay walking and public drunkeness. I’m a Delawarean and we actually have some nice beaches, some of the cleanest on the coast. Dewey is more of young adult party town, in between a few more family and traditional beach towns. It’s totally dead from around Labor day to almost Memorial day, and I would be shocked if 400 people actually stay there off season since most businesses close down. (although living at the beach during the summer season would probably cause me to to go on a violent rampage because from Friday afternoon through Sunday evening it’s bumper to bumper, wall to wall traffic every single weekend in the summer, and only slightly better on the weekdays).
The only danger that I could possibly conceive of that might require homeland security patrol is the relative proximity to the Jersey Shore and the hazards of anyone from there washing up on Delaware beaches.

Anonymous Coward says:

Dewey PD has ... while avoiding any sort of local accountability

That’s the whole point of the 1033 program — to bypass the local elected officials.

Ditto with the Fed’s “asset forfeiture” program, which provides unaccountable slush funds for additional toys, like stingrays and drones.

The Feds under Obama also attempted to corner the market on ammunition. Why these agencies like the Post Office, the IRS, etc., need several generations’ worth of non-military ammunition is a question that Muckrock and others should be asking.

Draw your own conclusions, but they won’t be pretty.

Anonymous Coward says:

list prices

The itemized list of equipment acquired by the Dewey Police dept lists prices far below market value. While it’s hard to estimate the true value of most items, since only a short description is given, the guns stand out as severely undervalued.

For instance, .45 pistols are worth five to ten times the $58 value listed on the report. Someone needs to fire those government appraisers.

Agammamon says:

C’mon, this is totally reasonable. Given that the department will have put exactly zero dollars aside for maintenance or repair, military vehicles are notoriously high maintenance and parts are expensive, and that you can expect that at least three will crap out in any given year – that’s enough vehicles to supply the department for at least 5 years!

tom (profile) says:

I can see picking up a couple of vehicles that could be useful in a high water rescue setting. If nothing else, one to use and one as a parts supply. 31 for such a small town seems a bit excessive. Sounds like the mayor, city manager and city council are failing in their oversight jobs.

I don’t find the large number of jackets to be troubling. I have played the buy govt surplus game and an individual lot of jackets is often a mix of sizes. Could be those 51 jackets were one lot with take them all condition.

Another bad thing about this small town getting all this stuff is the likelyhood that a town that COULD use a few of these things might not get any due to this town’s greed.

DB (profile) says:

The 1033 program has rules to avoid the most embarrassing abuses. Someone that spends a little time looking for loopholes certainly could find them, but this department didn’t even find it necessary to put in that effort.

The rule say that the equipment must be put into use within 12 months, and must be used for at least 12 months for small equipment, 18 months for regular vehicles and small boats, with longer use required for large vehicles, aircraft, etc.

The rules also block the most obvious loopholes. That the equipment may not be loaned or used privately during that period, or broken down for parts.

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