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Jul 3, 2014 12:10 AM by Tom McNamara and Paul Birmingham

Local law enforcement stocking-up on military surplus equipment

From the frontlines of the war on terror overseas, to the battle against street crime here at home. Local law enforcement agencies are stocking-up on military surplus items. But, not everyone in the community is happy about this military hardware being in the hands of local law enforcement.

News 4 Tucson wanted to find out exactly what type of equipment local law enforcement agencies in southern Arizona had received from the Department of Defense since the beginning of last year.

The Defense Logistics Agency responded to our request with a list that details thousands of military surplus items sent to southern Arizona since the beginning of 2013.

About a half-million dollars worth of those surplus items were sent to Tucson Police.

"There's several different people that use this type of equipment. And during the tough budget times it's certainly been very important to us," said Assistant Chief, John Leavitt.

Items include everything from combat boots, jackets, first-aid kits, sleeping bag, gloves, and even bayonets.

We wanted to know what TPD plans to do with all this military surplus equipment.

"These boots, they're certainly a military boot, they're brand new, and we got over ten-thousand dollars worth of these. We issue these to four of our units in the police department," Leavitt said.

He added that military surplus items are crucial items in the departments arsenal.

"Thirty-five percent of our police department are people that were in the military, or are in the military now as reservists and members of the National Guard, so that linkage is a natural one, and that's really helped us I think over the years," Leavitt said.

So, what about those bayonets? What possible purpose could they serve on the streets of Tucson?

"If they carry it, they can pry through doors, they can use the saw on the back of it to cut through walls, if they need to go from room to room in an apartment complex, and they can use it for a multi-purpose tool. Again, they don't cost us anything, so it's something that we take a look at," Leavitt said.

TPD wasn't the only southern Arizona law enforcement agency to receive these surplus military items.

The Pinal County Sheriff's Office was even able to get a mine-resistant vehicle valued at around three-quarters of a million dollars.

The Pima County Sheriff's Department also received hundreds of surplus military items. Tools they say can be put to use by deputies in the field.

"If we need some piece of equipment that's out there, and the military is offering it up free, it's probably already been purchased by taxpayer dollars, we'd be silly not to at least look at it, and if it's something we could use, we'd take it on," said Chief Deputy, Chris Nanos.

Meanwhile groups like the American Civil Liberties Union aren't happy to see the sharing of military surplus with law enforcement.

"They have the technology, they have the gear, and they're using it. That doesn't mean that it's safe for communities, or for law enforcement for that matter," said ACLU Staff Attorney, James Lyall.

"America isn't a country where you have a standing army in towns and cities. We have not set-up the country that way, and yet these programs are essentially designed to turn local law-enforcement increasingly into forces that much more closely represent the military," Lyall said.

We asked Assistant Chief Leavitt about concerns that police departments around the nation are becoming too heavily armed and militarized.

"We appropriately train people, we appropriately equip them. A lot of people aren't even aware that we have sophisticated training and abilities to respond to major threats, because they don't see them, because they're not at the major threats. So, it's nothing that we flaunt. It's something that we make sure we work with the community to make sure everyone is comfortable with what we're doing, and I think we've done a good job at it," Leavitt said.

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