Military surplus supplements police department's gear

Holts Summit police obtained this Humvee through the Department of Defense's Excess Property Program in 2010.

A mid-Missouri police department said Wednesday it has turned to military surplus equipment for many purposes.

Sgt. Marc Haycook said the Holts Summit Police Department obtained a surplus Humvee in 2010 through the Department of Defense's Excess Property Program. He said the Humvee is mainly used for road conditions that are too much for the department's squad cars. As an example, he said the Humvee was once used to get to a medical emergency at a house that had become inaccessible after a storm. Haycook said the Humvee is not armored and has no offensive capabilities of any kind.

"It would never be used in an offensive manner," he said. "It's going to be used in a natural emergency, it's going to be used in a blizzard."

The Excess Property Program has come under sharp criticism since the unrest in Ferguson began. Also known as the 1033 Program for the section of the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act that governs it, the program lets any law enforcement agency receive surplus military equipment. Any equipment arrives free of charge except firearms, which involve a fee and officially are considered DoD property on loan to a law enforcement agency. According to the program's website, police departments nationwide have received more than $5.1 billion worth of property since it began, including $499 million worth last year alone. The program was created in 1990 as a way for federal and state agencies battling drug rings to access military gear and was expanded to all law enforcement agencies in 1997.

Haycook said the equipment available through the 1033 program predates the program itself and noted big police departments have used military surplus gear for decades. He said he remembers converting old ambulances to special-response vehicles because smaller departments could not afford surplus gear.

Vehicles and weapons are not the only equipment distributed through the program. Holts Summit police have also gotten backpacks, night-vision goggles, computers and extra handguns through the program. Detective Tom O'Sullivan, of the Boone County Sheriff's Department, said that agency has received binoculars and night-vision goggles through the program but no weapons or heavy equipment. Other items available through the program include clothing, helmets, body armor and even printers.

"As a taxpayer, we've already paid for that material one time," Haycook said, adding the alternative is to destroy equipment and sell it for scrap.

Holts Summit residents expressed little concern about the use of military surplus equipment. John Wormsley said he thought it was a good use of excess gear, though he added he thought the police should take some time to explain to the public what they have and why they have it.

"I think it's also a good deterrent for any possible criminals in the neighborhood to know what they're up against," he said.