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Arizona police got more than $6 million in military gear in the past year

By: - April 6, 2021 1:03 pm

An armored SWAT police truck in downtown Phoenix on May 31, 2020, during a protest of police violence against people of color. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

Over the past year and into 2021, Police agencies in Arizona have received $6.8 million in military equipment through the Law Enforcement Support Office of the Department of Defense. 

The federal program that transfers surplus equipment to law enforcement throughout the country has sent upwards of $5.1 billion in surplus military equipment to law enforcement agencies since its creation in the late 1990s. 

Recently released Department of Defense data sheds a light on the equipment law enforcement agencies in the state sought to add to their inventories from the program in 2020 and in early 2021 which appears to be supplies to help with COVID-19 as well as military grade vehicles and robots. 

Since 1998, Arizona law enforcement agencies have received $91.8 million in military equipment, a figure outmatched only by California, Florida, Tennessee and Texas. 

In total, 341 items were sent to Arizona law enforcement from Jan. 1, 2020, to March 24, 2021, the end date of the most recent report by the Department of Defense.

Police departments receive the equipment 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. 

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

The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office leads the pack in the number of acquisitions from the program, with $6 out of every $10 sent to Arizona going to the agency. PCSO acquired $4.2 million worth of military equipment, including a helicopter, inflatable boat, 19 night vision scopes, prefabricated buildings, forklifts, ammunition and a sofa. 

Since 2016, the program has seen a major decline in the amount of equipment police have taken, though PCSO’s allotment from 2020 is higher than what it received in 2013, 2017, 2018 and 2019. Additionally, 2021 has outpaced the past four years. 

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

Other agencies in Arizona have also received some high-ticket items from the program in the past 15 months. 

The Buckeye Police Department, Gilbert Police Department, Pima County Sheriff’s Office, Tucson Airport Authority Police Department, Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office and the Yuma Police Department all received “unmanned ground vehicles.” 

The item is a bomb defusal robot that was likely used in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan that are being phased out as the United States military moves to more sophisticated unmanned ground vehicle systems. 

“These robots reinforce our preparedness to protect the airport and the traveling public, and support our primary mission to ensure aviation safety and security,” Tucson Airport Authority Police Chief Scott Bader said in a press release about their acquisition. 

The Buckeye Police Department, which also acquired a UGV, obtained a number of other pieces of new equipment, including a new sedan, scooter, five ATVs, two forklifts, spotlights and searchlights, a truck and a mine resistant vehicle commonly referred to as an MRAP

“The Buckeye Police Department and its citizens have benefitted (sic) greatly from the Law Enforcement Support Office 1033 Program,” Buckeye Police spokeswoman Donna Rossi said in a statement to the Arizona Mirror. “We have obtained lifesaving medical equipment including first aid kits and AED’s in the past.”

Buckeye police also acquired two “mule” ATVs that Rossi said will be used in the desert areas of the city. 

“The mine resistant vehicle is assigned to our SWAT team for tactical operations, such as barricades, search warrants and responding to potential active shooter scenes,” Rossi added. 

Many agencies also appeared to have stocked up on gauze, gloves and other medical supplies from the program during 2020, likely to help during the pandemic as law enforcement interacts with the public. Winter clothing, jackets and boots were also popular items with law enforcement this past year. 

It does not appear that this year any law enforcement agencies in Arizona were sent smoke generators from Navy ships, though.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joined the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.