Police defend program to allow department to use military equipment
LUBBOCK COUNTY, TX (KCBD) - The video coming out of Ferguson, Missouri looks more like a scene from another country, not middle America.
Police and protesters have clashed over the death of an unarmed man.
Now, officials say the equipment police are using could come be coming from a war zone.
The Pentagon's Excess Property Program, sometimes called 1033 Program, supplies federal, state and local law enforcement agencies with surplus military grade equipment.
In fact, it has supplied agencies with more than four billion dollars worth of gear since congress enacted the program in the 1990's.
But with all of the controversy surrounding Ferguson, President Obama is asking if this program has blurred the line between police and military forces.
Tear gas and police in tactical gear along with armored vehicles is a nightly reality in suburban St. Louis where a young man died after an officer involved shooting.
Now, Washington is giving the 1033 Program a second look.
"I thinks its probably useful for us to review how the funding gone, how local law enforcement has used grant dollars to make sure what they're purchasing is stuff they actually need," President Obama said.
The Pentagon defends its program, but also adds it has no say in how the equipment is used.
"This is a useful program that allows for the reuse of military equipment that otherwise would be disposed of that can be used again by law enforcement," said Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon Press Secretary.
KCBD reviewed data from the Department of Defense and found Texas agencies received items worth more than 180 million dollars since the program started.
INFOGRAPHIC: Texas 1033 Program Usage by County
Lubbock County has received at least 430 thousand dollars worth of military equipment, the majority of it being utilized by the Wolfforth Police Department.
One of the items the department requested and received is a mobile office, which is a large military vehicle equipped with food, water and cots in case of an emergency.
"We can't afford to purchase a vehicle that can sit in a building and wait for a worst-case scenario, a mobile office, should half of our town be wiped out; we couldn't purchase that. We were able to get this vehicle for free. There's obviously some upkeep expenses, but they are fairly minor," said Wolfforth Police Chief Rick Scott.
They have also received dump trucks, a road grader, and a Humvee. Scott said this equipment is not being used to militarize their department.
He said one year a roadway just west of their city was flooded and several vehicles became stranded.
"Well, at that time, we were driving ford Crown Victoria police car. We couldn't drive those cars through there or our cars would be flooded out. So, were were able to drive that humvee out there and rescue people out of their stranded cars and get them off the road to safety," Scott said.
"We haven't requested armored vehicles or that kind of stuff. Other departments may need them, I don't know, I can't speak for those departments. I have no idea what they go through on a regular basis. The City of Wolfforth is a small, friendly community. We just haven't had the kind of issues that other departments have so we have no need for requesting that kind of equipment," Scott said.
However, other departments who are requesting that type of equipment, said there is a need.
"This is the type of equipment that we feel we need at times in situations to make sure that we go home to our families at night," said Steve Luce, with the Indiana Sheriff's Association. In response to the growing concerns over the militarization of local police forces, a democratic representative from Georgia said he plans on introducing the "Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act" to congress next month.
Several counties on the South Plains are participating in this program.