SOUTHWEST FLORIDA - We have a follow-up to a WINK News investigation on military surplus equipment being transferred to police officers. It's a program that's been around since the 90s, but it's recently come under scrutiny as police in Ferguson, Missouri use those tools to manage riots and protestors. WINK News is taking a look at how the 1033 Program is being used in Southwest Florida.
The federal program transfers military surplus equipment to law enforcement all around the country. Those against the program call it "militarization of police." Those for it say it gives officers and the people they're protecting the best chance of survival. WINK News requested records of all Law Enforcement Support Office or LESO property transfers. Here's what we found in Charlotte, Collier and Lee Counties.
Between 1999 and 2014, 808 pieces of equipment or vehicles have gone to local agencies. They range from mine resistant vehicles you'd see during SWAT situations, robots that check potentially explosive devices, infrared equipment and Bell helicopters.
Agencies get them at a fraction of the price. For example, M-16 rifles initially cost the federal government $500 each. Cape Coral Police only paid $50 each. Detective Sergeant Dana Coston told us that only a fraction of these rifles are currently used, as officers are replacing them with personally owned, modern rifles. Some of the rifles acquired through the program are several decades old.
But, under the agreement, it's their job to maintain them. The Florida Department of Management Services periodically does site visits and checks inventory to make sure. They tell WINK News that the Naples Police Department does not have any LESO property.
It's not all military equipment. Over the years, the Collier County Sheriff's Office has acquired things like a generator, battery charger, electrical connector, even an arm for a door. In fact, law enforcement agencies in Florida get more of those non-military items (55%) than military equipment (45%.)
Thursday, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill said she'll hold hearings sometime in September "to examine the militarization of local police departments." She said it will examine programs such as 1033 as well as grants made through the Department of Homeland Security.