Never-ending ‘gun show’: US gov’t sent $2bn in military gear to cops since ’06

© Mike Blake
Thousands of military weapons and trucks, as well as hundreds of aircraft, worth roughly $2.2 billion have been sent by the Pentagon to police departments around the United States over the last 10 years, a new report has found.

Even small police departments are being armed with surplus military gear from the Department of Defense’s 1033 program, shows the report, compiled by the transparency advocacy group Open the Books. Since 2006, more than 83,000 M16 and M14 rifles worth $31 million have been transferred into the hands of local police. Law enforcement officers received another 8,198 pistols and nearly 1,400 shotguns as well.

Meanwhile, more than 7,000 military trucks and hundreds of mine-resistant armored vehicles (MRAP) have been given to police, along with over 400 helicopters and 56 airplanes.

In addition, the report found the following items were distributed to law enforcement agencies:

  • 18,299 night-vision sights, sniper scopes, binoculars, goggles, infrared and image magnifiers ($98.5 million); 5,518 infrared, articulated, panoramic and laser telescopes ($5.5 million);
  • 866 mine detecting sets, marking kits, and probes ($3.3 million); 57 grenade launchers ($41,040);
  • 5,638 bayonets ($307,769) and 36 swords and scabbards.

Established under the National Defense Authorization Act, the 1033 program allows the Pentagon to give “surplus” military equipment to civilian agencies. According to the report, the result has been that “the federal government itself has become a ‘gun show’ that never adjourns and is distributing massive amounts of firepower to local police departments.”

Florida has benefitted most from the program, with police receiving more than $300 million worth of military gear. That is dramatically higher than the next two states on the list, Texas with $171 million in equipment and California with $162 million worth of gear. Rounding out the top 10 are Tennessee, Arizona, Virginia, Alabama, Ohio, Georgia and New Jersey.

In Florida, the state highway patrol alone earned possession of nearly 1,800 M16/M14 rifles, plus six armored vehicles, three MRAP vehicles and three combat/assault/tactical (CAT) vehicles.

The Pentagon’s delivery of surplus equipment remained relatively steady between 2006 and 2009, at up to $33 million worth of gear every year, the report found. It rose to $91 million in 2010 and ballooned to $227 million in 2011 before dropping and rising again.

Even as criticism and protests over excessive police force rose around the US, military equipment transfers surged in 2014, when police departments received $787 million worth of gear. That number dropped more than 60 percent last year, but still came in at $459 million worth of equipment.