The Payson Police Department thought it was getting a cell phone jammer in 2011 through a government program that gives surplus military equipment to law enforcement agencies, but instead found itself the not-so-proud owner of a smokescreen device from a U.S. Navy ship.
“The ‘Electronic Countermeasures’ were supposed to be cell phone jamming devices. However, what was sent were smoke machines off of a naval ship,” Chief of Police Ronald Tischer said in an email to Arizona Mirror. “So, we are in the process of sending them back. They were never used and have been in storage since 2011.”
The Mirror reached out to the Payson Police Department after analyzing data published by the Defense Logistics Agency about military equipment sent to local law enforcement agencies across the country. The department obtained two items listed as “electronic countermeasures” in 2011 both valued at roughly $4,800.
Agencies that participate in the program only have to pay for the cost of shipping.
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.
President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2015 banning the transfer of some of the equipment in the 1033 program, such as high-caliber weapons and grenade launchers. President Donald Trump rolled back those restrictions in 2017.
Tischer said Payson Police Department has no need or use for the smoke machine and that it has been working to give back a lot of military equipment that has been obtained over the past several years.
“In all reality, whatever this turns out to be should have been returned in 2011 when they figured out what it was,” Tischer said.
The Navy in the past has used smoke generators on its warships to screen their assaults, as well as to disrupt infrared sensors or laser target designators.
Smoke generators are mainly used by the Navy for obscuring satellite imagery or defeating anti-ship cruise missiles but they can also be used to cover large areas, in some cases entire towns, in specialized smoke.
The smoke generators were not the only specialized military equipment Payson received.
The department also received three “unmanned ground vehicles.” Unlike the smoke generators, those are in use by the agency for bomb disposal and deactivation.
Payon PD also received 35 military rifles, 17 night vision goggles, two cargo trucks, a fuel truck, thermal weapon sights, a mine resistant vehicle and solar panels. In total, the department received $1.1 million in equipment from the military.
The Payson Police Department reported 63 violent crimes in 2018, per federal data.