Military gear in Oregon

Local law enforcement acquires guns, armored personnel carrier through federal giveaway

By Andrew Clevenger / The Bulletin / @andclev

WASHINGTON — Since 2006, the U.S. military has given Oregon law enforcement agencies more than $10.7 million of surplus military equipment, from armored vehicles to assault rifles, through the Defense Department’s Law Enforcement Support Office program.

The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office received equipment valued at almost $385,000, including a $195,000 REVA (short for reliable, effective, versatile and affordable) armored personnel carrier and five $28,000 laser range finders. The sheriff’s office also obtained 22 5.56 mm machine guns, three 7.62 mm machine guns and four grenade launchers.

The Bend Police Department also received 10 of the 5.56 mm machine guns and five of the 7.62 mm machine guns, a total value of $5,680.

No law enforcement agencies in either Crook or Jefferson counties received any military equipment through the Law Enforcement Support Office program, according to a list provided by the state’s Department of Administrative Services, which administers the federal program in Oregon.

Other counties requested and received big-ticket items.

Last year, the sheriff’s offices in Baker, Clackamas and Polk counties all requested and received mine-resistant ambush-protected armored vehicles, or MRAPs, valued at $658,000 each. The heavily armored vehicles are designed to withstand roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, frequently utilized in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Eugene Police Department obtained a $329,000 utility truck, while the Lane County Sheriff’s Office collected nine additional utility trucks valued between $25,000 and $329,000, as well as a REVA armored vehicle.

Images of law enforcement brandishing military-style weapons while riding in armored vehicles and wearing military-style camouflage dominated media coverage of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the past week. Since then, the militarization of domestic police forces, in part through the Law Enforcement Support Office program, has come under heightened scrutiny.

Since Congress enacted the program, also known as the 1033 program, in the 1990s, more than $5.1 billion in military surplus equipment has been handed over to domestic law enforcement agencies. Last year, the program — designed in part to arm police for anti-drug and counterterrorism efforts — transferred $449 million worth of equipment.

To qualify to receive an MRAP armored vehicle, law enforcement agencies must meet certain criteria, said Michelle McCaskill, spokeswoman for the Defense Logistics Agency, which administers the LESO program.

“Criteria include justification for use of the vehicle, such as in response to active shooter incidents, SWAT, and drug interdiction; geographical area and multi-jurisdiction use; ability of the agency to pay for repairs and maintenance of the vehicle; and security and restricted access to the vehicle,” McCaskill wrote in an email this week.

The MRAPs issued to domestic police forces have been declared excess by the military, she said.

“It is prudent to allow law enforcement agencies to use MRAPs versus scrapping them or allowing them to sit in storage if a military service does not need the excess vehicles,” she said.

Weapons constitute only 5 percent of the surplus equipment passed along to law enforcement through the program, and less than 1 percent are tactical vehicles, she said.

“LESO transfers of excess DOD personal property cover the full range of items used by the government: office equipment, blankets and sleeping bags, computers, digital cameras, individual clothing and equipment, aircraft, boats, vehicles and weapons,” she said.

Stephen Smith, Oregon’s program LESO coordinator, said the Department of Defense keeps an online list of military equipment that is available to local law enforcement agencies that have been certified under the program.

“They put everything in there every week that is available,” he said.

Local law enforcement must go through the state to request weapons, but can submit requests for other items directly to the federal office, he said.

Local police must keep updated pictures of serial numbers for vehicles, weapons and other sensitive equipment, he said. Oregon is audited every two years by the federal program overseers, he said. During their last inspection, he said, auditors visited 12 agencies throughout Oregon.

The surplus equipment is free to law enforcement agencies, but they must pay the shipping, said Defense Logistics Agency’s McCaskill. The value is based on the price the military paid for the item when it was new.

Other less valuable items obtained by Oregon law enforcement agencies include flashlights, exercise bicycles, computer monitors, Polartec fleece pullovers and “cold weather drawers.”

— Reporter: 202-662-7456, aclevenger@bendbulletin.com