The Defense Department’s program to provide excess military equipment to law enforcement agencies may be controversial in some quarters, but Sacramento officials say it has saved their agencies millions by providing everything from high-tech gear to forklifts.
The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department says that in the past two decades, the program has provided more than $3 million in equipment, including four helicopters received 20 years ago, 288 semi-automatic M16 rifles, eight paper shredders and two space heaters.
Sacramento police don’t have a dollar amount of material received, but they say the department has taken in about 200 semi-automatic M16s, along with a forklift used at its academy, an armored four-wheel drive vehicle used for protection at barricades or other dangerous incidents, tactical knee pads for the rifle team and camouflage netting for shade.
The program, operated by the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency, provides excess military equipment at no cost to thousands of law enforcement agencies nationwide. This week, the program sparked controversy in Davis when it was revealed that city police recently obtained a mine-resistant armored vehicle, something that local political leaders sharply questioned.
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But agencies throughout the region that have been using the program for years say it has helped them obtain critically needed equipment without breaking their budgets.
Over the years, Sacramento police have obtained three helicopters, two that alternate flying duties and a third used for parts, Sacramento police spokesman Doug Morse said.
“Our whole air unit wouldn’t be what it is without them,” he said. “It not only aids the city, but we help out with the neighboring jurisdictions as well.”
The city also picked up a Humvee, Morse said. Like two other agencies in the Sacramento region that have obtained Humvees, it is used “strictly for public relations,” he said. Last year, the vehicle made an appearance at the city’s Santa Parade.
The Sheriff’s Department also got a Humvee that is used for public relations events, spokeswoman Sgt. Lisa Bowman said. Roseville police also have one used for the same purpose.
Many of the items received through the program are mundane: The Sheriff’s Department got three $17,000 delivery box vans, about 100 sleeping bags and 300 first aid kits.
But it also has gotten equipment that the department needs to patrol some of the area’s more difficult spots: six Jet Skis valued at $6,500 each help out along the area’s rivers, and six all-terrain vehicles valued at $6,500 each are used for enforcement along the American River Parkway and near Folsom Dam.
The department also received 30 $3,000 pairs of night-vision goggles, a 50-foot trailer envisioned as a mobile community service center (valued at $87,500) and a $20,000 four-wheel-drive truck used for search and rescue.
The most expensive items the Sheriff’s Department received are the Bell UH1 helicopters it got in 1994 that were valued at $250,000 each. Another $500,000 in helicopter parts also were received, but Bowman noted that two of the helicopters are no longer used.