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Military equipment used sparsely by police in Elkhart County

Law enforcement in St. Joseph County have received $4.1 million worth of military equipment since 2006. Elkhart County has received $23,918.94 worth of equipment from the same program.

Posted on Aug. 28, 2014 at 1:04 p.m.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 1:20 p.m. Monday, Sept. 2, with the correct year that the Goshen Police Department received an armored vehicle. The Elkhart Truth regrets the error.

Since 2006, some police agencies across northern Indiana have acquired military equipment ranging from the mundane to the extreme — including tear gas grenade launchers, armored vehicles and night vision equipment.

In Elkhart County? Not so much.

Between 2006 and May 2014, police departments throughout Elkhart County received 98 rifles, 50 handguns and a four-wheel ATV through the Defense Logistics Agency’s 1033 Program, according to data obtained by The New York Times.

The free program, which has been in place since the 1990s, allows the transfer of extra military equipment from the Department of Defense to state and local law enforcement agencies. 

The program has come under scrutiny in recent weeks after police in Ferguson, Mo., responded to mostly unarmed protesters with tear gas, armored vehicles, rubber bullets and other tactics. 

The events led President Barack Obama to call for a review of operations like the 1033 Program, Reuters reported.

Helicopters, rifles and camcorders

The data provided by The New York Times doesn’t indicate which departments received the equipment and may include state agencies. 

Here’s a breakdown of all the equipment received in Elkhart County through the program since 2006, including item value: 

  • 1 four-wheel Yamaha ATV, $3,000
  • 2 7.62 mm rifles, $138 each
  • 4 .38 caliber special revolvers, $89.57 each
  • 80 5.56 mm rifles, $120 each
  • 46 .45 caliber automatic pistols, $58.71 each
  • 16 5.56 mm rifles, $499 each

The total value of the equipment is $23,918.94. During the same time period, law enforcement agencies in neighboring St. Joseph County received military equipment valued at $4.1 million.

That includes a $733,000 mine-resistant armored vehicle, a $500,000 piece of thermal imaging technology, 22 pieces of night vision equipment, recording devices, rifles, handguns, office equipment, medical supplies, clothing, laptops, 11 trucks and a snowmobile.

Nearby Porter, DeKalb and Pulaski counties have received grenade launchers, typically used for smoke grenades and tear gas. 

Lake County has received seven helicopters.

Equipment is 'often impractical’

In a phone interview Tuesday, Aug. 26, Sheriff Brad Rogers said the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department hasn’t used the program since he took office in 2011.

Shortly before that, the department acquired 16 .223 caliber rifles, along with some .45 caliber handguns, which were deemed too unwieldy for practical use.

Rogers defended the use of military-grade equipment in extreme situations, referencing the 1998 shooting of Goshen police officer Thomas Goodwin, which involved a SWAT team, and the January 2014 shooting at an Elkhart Martin’s Super Market, where three people died, including the shooter.

When responding to the Martin’s shooting, “officers needed firepower to go up against somebody who was obviously a deadly threat,” Rogers said.

Still, the department has no major plans to use the 1033 Program in the near future.

“I wouldn’t rule out rifles, but the stuff that they offer is often impractical for law enforcement,” Rogers said.

The department may soon be in the market for a new armored truck, but it would likely be purchased from a local vendor.

If police militarization is happening, it’s not because more equipment is available, Rogers said.

“It’s the attitude, or the inappropriate use, for example, of a patrol rifle that’s stuck in somebody’s face when they have no authority or reason to do such a thing, or using SWAT teams when a SWAT team doesn’t need to be used,” he said.

'Open communication with our residents'

Police Sergeant Brian Moore of the Elkhart Police Department is hesitant to judge other law enforcement agencies for the equipment they might have in their arsenal.

“My belief is that everything we do needs to be judged on a case by case basis,” he said. 

The Elkhart Police Department has received about 25 rifles and 20 handguns through the 1033 Program, he said.

“A lot of the other equipment, the launchers and that, we do have it, but that’s something we’ve gotten through our budget process, and as far as vehicles, we haven’t gotten anything yet,” Moore said.

The Goshen Police Department has been using the 1033 program for 18 years, according to Goshen Police Chief Wade Branson — and it’s saved taxpayers a lot of money.

The department was able to get M16 rifles for every officer to carry in their squad cars while they’re on duty.

“If purchased new from the Colt manufacturer, the cost of our rifles would have amounted to more than $50,000,” Branson wrote in an email Tuesday, Aug. 27.

In 2002, the department acquired a 1981 armored vehicle that was modified to transport members of the emergency response team.

As for the militarization of police, “law enforcement have always been considered a ‘para-military’ profession,” Branson wrote. “We wear uniforms, follow chain of command, operate according to laws, ordinances, rules and regulations, policies and procedures.”

At the same time, the Goshen Police Department is heavily focused on community-oriented policing.

“Knowing the residents and maintaining open communication with our residents is a primary goal of our officers and a huge asset to our department,” he wrote.

 

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