Local governments all over the country have received tanks, mine-proof battle vehicles, armored personnel carriers, high powered rifles and enormous stocks of ammunition, from the federal government as this war refuse was brought back from Iraq and Afghanistan. So far police departments in Dane county have received some of these weapons including 440 high powered rifles and ammunition, and a mine proof battle vehicle. Why? Uhhhh, cuz it’s available, it seems. The Madison police chief says he’s going to rescue people with his war wagon. Right ….
People in many communities have become more aware of the increased militarization of local police and want these weapons returned to the military. But, according to an article in Mother Jones magazine, the Federal Government doesn’t want this war refuse back.
An officer with the Chelan County Sheriff’s Department in central Washington is offering me a tank. Three of them, actually.
“We really want to get rid of these,” Undersheriff John Wisemore says. “We’ve been trying to get the military to take them back since 2004.”
The tanks came from a vast Defense Department grant program that has furnished American police arsenals, at no charge, with $4.3 billion worth of combat equipment leftover from two foreign wars. The tanks are amphibious, capable of firing 107-mm mortars—and not remotely useful to Wisemore’s rural police department. But the county can’t seem to unload them. Back in June, Wisemore got an email from a Defense Department liaison promising to explain how Chelan County can get rid of the tanks. Then, nothing. Until further notice, Wisemore says, “they’re just going to sit there.”
But some agencies have found the process of getting rid of unwanted military gear next to impossible. Agencies can’t return or trade equipment without Defense Department approval, and because the Pentagon technically still owns the equipment, they can’t sell it.
According to interviews with state officials running point between the Pentagon and police, the Defense Department prefers to leave equipment in circulation whenever possible. “It’s a low-cost storage method for them,” says Robb Davis, the mayor pro tem of Davis. His town is trying to shake its MRAP. “They’re dumping these vehicles on us and saying, ‘Hey, these are still ours, but you have to maintain them for us.'”
The spokeswoman for the San Diego school district doesn’t know who previously possessed its MRAP, but she says the vehicle arrived from Texas stripped of its gun turrets and interior instruments—signs that it had been modified for police use by the last owner. When Steuben County, in rural New York, no longer wanted two armored vehicles, it sent one to the nearby Broome County Sheriff’s Department and one to the village of Endicott. And the tanks that Chelan County, Washington, wants so badly to get rid of came from the police department in Vancouver.
Where the tanks will go next is anyone’s guess.
“We’ve put it out there that we don’t want these anymore,” says Wisemore, the undersheriff. “But I don’t think any other agency is interested in them.” He pauses. “Are you?”