Mother Jones: Police Departments Having Trouble Getting Rid of Military Hardware

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The MRAPs, grenade launchers and assault rifles were easy to get through the Defense Department's 1033 program. It's returning them, police departments across the country are learning, that's the tricky part, Mother Jones reports
The Boise Police Department's mine resistant ambush protected vehicle (MRAP) - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • The Boise Police Department's mine resistant ambush protected vehicle (MRAP)

Even before the militarization of police became a household conversation topic this summer, stemming from heavily armed police confronting demonstrators in Ferguson, Mo., some law enforcement agencies began to see the military equipment they'd acquired through the 1033 program as high maintenance, unwieldy or otherwise useless in community policing efforts. According to a representative of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), in the last 10 years, police departments have returned more than 6,000 such items to the Pentagon.

But as the back flow of military materiel has increased, so has the difficulty police have had in making returns. A representative of Defense Logistics Agency, which is the go-between for police departments and the 1033 program, said that law enforcement may return equipment provided that they complete the right paperwork, and that some equipment, like night vision goggles, require extra certification in order to be returned. But cities are saying that the paperwork is mountainous and labyrinthine, and the Defense Department has made the process even more difficult: The website that lets PDs request returns has been temporarily closed, and won't open again until Wednesday, Oct. 1.

"[The 1033 program] is a low-cost storage method for [the Defense Department," said Mayor pro tem of Davis, Calif., which is trying to return its MRAP. "They're dumping these vehicles on us and saying, 'Hey, these are still ours, but you have to maintain them for us.'"

And since the military still technically owns the materiel, PDs can't sell it—they have to find another police department that will take MRAPs, semi-automatic weapons and other technology off their hands. The city of Hillsborough, N.C., has been trying to return its three M14 rifles, which the PD has determined are too heavy for community policing. But the North Carolina liaison between it and the 1033 program told Hillsborough PD that another law enforcement agency will have to take them. 

In fact, the protocol for 1033 liaisons when law enforcement wishes to return materiel is to alert other police departments across the state that the materiel is now available, posing a moral dilemma to departments wishing to rid themselves of weapons and armored vehicles out of protest: Sending back repurposed military hardware means it will end up in the hands of some other police department—not in storage.

"I have a lot of discomfort about that," said Lieutenant Davis Trimmer of the Hillsborough Police Department.