The Pentagon has supplied the 10-officer police force in the tiny eastern Ohio village of Sugarcreek with a horse patrol, a 16-foot boat, five all-terrain vehicles and boxes of combat boots all for free.
The department has taken advantage of a military surplus program that has benefited cash-strapped law-enforcement agencies around the country.
I would say we ve probably got $100,000 worth of stuff, said police Chief Tom Agler.
About 16,000 departments around the nation obtained more than 380,000 pieces of equipment in fiscal 2005 alone, according to an Associated Press analysis of the surplus program, through which the military gives away items that have been replaced or are no longer needed. The items including bulletproof vests, night-vision goggles and even helicopters were worth nearly $124 million.
People say there s nothing free in this world. I agree. You have to go get it, Agler said. We ve gone as far as Colorado Springs, Colorado, and brought stuff back.
Law enforcement agencies across Ohio obtained 9,804 items in 2005, valued at $7.9 million, the fifth highest among the states in terms of dollar amount.
The Clark County sheriff s office in western Ohio used the program to obtain 10 M-16 rifles, six M-14 rifles and 20 45-caliber pistols.
Without these surplus weapons, we re outgunned here on the streets, said Sheriff Gene Kelly. We re trying to step up our ability to protect this community. We re grateful for the equipment.
In 2001, the department obtained 70 bulletproof vests valued at up to $500 apiece. Officers have also gotten helmets, and the department obtained a bus from the Air Force that it painted black and uses to haul inmates.
Kelly, who described his budget as bare-bones, said the body armor and high-powered rifles are needed for potential emergencies, such as school shootings.
When you have an armed person in a school, you don t have time to call a SWAT team. Every minute you delay could cost someone their life, he said. And many times the bad guys have more firepower and ammo.
The Lima police department in northwest Ohio used the surplus program to find a utility truck for its bomb squad several years ago. A field ambulance was converted into a command post for the department s hostage negotiation team.
It was important for us to make sure those guys were properly equipped, but we didn t have the money to upgrade, said police Chief Greg Garlock. We ve obtained things we would not have been able to obtain otherwise.
Even the smallest towns have taken advantage of the program.
New Straitsville, a town of 800 in southeast Ohio with a police force of one, obtained a four-wheel-drive pickup truck about four years ago to supplement patrols and remove snow.
The vehicle, which had only 35,000 miles on it, still wears its green camouflage colors.
It s great for these small villages because we can t afford to buy things like that, said police Chief Lloyd Welch.
The military surplus program is administered by the Defense Logistics Agency. Police departments pay only to have the equipment shipped and buy any necessary upgrades.
The giveaway program started in 1990 to transfer surplus military parts to police for anti-drug and anti-terrorism work. Its mission was later broadened. Each state has an office that helps facilitate the program.
The Sugarcreek police department has obtained 11 horses through the program since 2003, enabling it to form a mounted patrol. It received all-terrain vehicles for search and rescue, a backhoe it uses to work on the pistol range, an aluminum boat from the Navy, and a truck and generators that were used several years ago to supply electricity to residents of nearby Zoar who were stranded by floodwaters.
And then there are combat boots for the officers.
It saves the village from buying $90-to-$100 pairs of shoes, Agler said.
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