When you start losing Humvees, it’s a good sign you’ve got more equipment than you really need.
By Tim Cushing @ Tech Dirt
Turning police departments into military bases has been one of the side effects of the 1033 program. This program routes military weapons and vehicles (as well as ancillaries like office equipment and medical supplies) to police forces, asking for nothing in return but a small donation and the use of the words “terrorism” or “drugs” on the application form. The program has been extremely popular and the US government can rest easy knowing that its excess inventory won’t go to waste.
Only within the past couple of weeks has anyone in the upper echelons of the government expressed concern about the program. President Obama has ordered a review of military hardware in law enforcement’s hands, but previous to this move (forced by Ferguson cops’ war-like tactics), the only thing heard from federal or local government has been the occasional bit of proposed legislation (including terribly-timed, objectively awful bills).
The program operates with very little oversight. No one in control of the dispersals seems to do any vetting of requests. This results in towns of 7,000 suddenly being confronted with the fact that their local police (all 12 of them) are now in possession of a mine-resistant vehicle.
This lack of oversight also leads to the following problem — missing equipment. Apparently, some agencies are acting like spoiled children with too many toys and not taking care of the new stuff they’ve been given.
Fusion has learned that 184 state and local police departments have been suspended from the Pentagon’s “1033 program” for missing weapons or failure to comply with other guidelines. We uncovered a pattern of missing M14 and M16 assault rifles across the country, as well as instances of missing .45-caliber pistols, shotguns and 2 cases of missing Humvee vehicles.
When you start losing Humvees, it’s a good sign you’ve got more equipment than you really need. Request forms make these items sound like dire necessities but the one thing most people do with stuff they really need is keep track of where it is. A number of agencies are apparently less than concerned about the whereabouts of their terrorist-fighting equipment, only realizing something’s missing when they have to perform their yearly check-in with the government reps.
Fusion found that many of the suspensions occur in February, after police departments conduct their year-end weapons inventory.
So, there’s a little bit of accountability present in the program. But it’s so minimal as to be nearly non-existent. Law enforcement agencies may rat themselves out by reporting missing equipment, but the Pentagon (home of the Defense Logistics Agency which handles the actual hand outs) seems just as badly organized as the agencies they eighty-six.
The decentralized structure of the program makes it difficult — even for the Pentagon — to keep tabs on the standing of participating police departments, or the weapons they’ve been issued. Officials at the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), which runs the equipment-transfer program, were unable to provide specifics about why various police departments were suspended.
Why is a system that supposedly oversees the transfer of military goods to law enforcement decentralized? Well, it’s because of bureaucracy. Every state handles it differently, resulting in data being routed through a variety of local agencies before it finally ends up in the Pentagon’s hands. Like a game of telephone played by UN members without the assistance of translators, this “system” often returns inaccurate or incomplete information. In some states, the agency law enforcement reports to is the Dept. of Public Safety. In others, it might be something as obscure as the Dept. of Career Education.
Pulling hard numbers on handouts means sending an FOIA to the CIA, and even if a response is given (like a recent one MuckRock acquired), it only provides raw numbers on what was handed out to each state. Nothing is broken down to individual law enforcement agencies. So, we may know approximately where equipment went, but numbers on how much of it has gone missing is something that can only be estimated by the number of suspensions handed out. Those losing weapons and vehicles don’t really want to talk about it.
The state coordinator for California said he was “not authorized” to speak on behalf of the agency he runs, and instead deferred all questions to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, which declined repeated requests for details on the 10 suspended programs in the state.
And when they do talk about it, you almost wish they hadn’t.
Huntington Beach Police Department said it was suspended from the program last year after losing an M16 assault rifle.
“It was discovered during an internal audit,” Huntington Beach Police Lieutenant Mitchell O’Brien told Fusion. “An investigation was inconclusive as to how that occurred.”
That’s comforting. “We don’t know how it happened or where it is.”
Suspensions might hurt but they’re apparently not much of a deterrent. The article lists more than a few repeat offenders. Only in rare cases will offenders be required to return the requisitioned items, and in the one case Fusion was able to track down, it was ordered by the state, not the Pentagon.
Increased power with near-zero accountability. That’s a hell of a way to run the business of law enforcement.
This article originally appeared at Tech Dirt