Arizona police have gotten $90 million of military equipment, weapons

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Arizona police have received more than $90 million in military equipment since 1998, including $3.4 million in the first half of 2020, an Arizona Mirror analysis finds. In all, one in every 10 dollars of military equipment sent to a law enforcement agency has been sent to Arizona.

According to the Defense Logistics Agency, which publishes data on military equipment sent to local law enforcement agencies across the country, the Arizona Department of Public Safety has acquired nearly 1,000 items from military surplus, the most in the state. The items range from night vision goggles to three aircraft, valued at $17 million each. 

Some small rural police departments have gotten large acquisitions from the military, as well. 

The Cottonwood Police Department, which serves the small community of 12,000 people, got a remote-controlled bomb disposal and surveillance robot. It also got night vision goggles, night vision sniper scopes and two utility trucks. In all, the department has gotten $1 million in military equipment.

The Cottonwood Police Department reported 15 violent crimes in 2018, per federal data

The small border town of Douglas, home to about 16,000 people, received a mine resistant vehicle from the program in 2014. The police department reported 41 violent crimes in 2017, the most recent year data is available.

The program that allows police to obtain military equipment was established in 1997 and came under scrutiny after the 2014 unrest in Ferguson, Mo., following the police killing of Michael Brown and subsequent protests, which were met by police forces using military hardware. 

Nationwide, law enforcement agencies have received more than $850 million in military equipment. More than 10% of that has gone to Arizona agencies. 

Police departments receive the equipment under the 1033 program at no cost except for shipping. President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2015 banning the transfer of some of the equipment, such as high-caliber weapons and grenade launchers. President Donald Trump rolled back those restrictions in 2017. 

Supporters of the program say that most of the equipment consists of bandages and clothing. But in Arizona, it appears that most of the equipment is weapons-related. Rifles, parts for rifles and pistols, “riot type” shotguns, sights and other weapon parts make up a bulk of the transfers to Arizona police departments. 

Studies have drawn links between law enforcement agencies that receive military equipment and higher rates of police violence, as well as an erosion of public trust. Legislation has been introduced to limit the scope of the program, but has not yet advanced. 

The peak year for military equipment coming to Arizona police agencies was 2015, the year DPS acquired the three airplanes. The planes totalled $51 million; all other agencies combined received $947,000 in equipment. 

In 2015, Arizona agencies received more than $51 million in equipment. The next biggest year for Arizona law enforcement was in 2014, when agencies received more than $9 million worth of equipment. 

Some agencies in the state have taken heat for their use of the program, in particular public university police departments that acquired assault rifles. 

Arizona State University Police received 70 M-16s in 2014. In 2018, the police force got night vision goggles and last year it got 100 “assault packs.” Other higher education police departments have gotten rifles, as well, including Arizona Western College in Yuma, which took possession of 3 “riot type” shotguns in 2005. 

Arizona’s largest police department, the Phoenix Police Department, appears not to have participated in the 1033 program. 

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