There is, quite literally, billions of dollars worth of military equipment that we have bought and paid for being stored in warehouses and bases across this country. All of it is available to local, county and state police departments for the asking.
The best part? The equipment is already paid for. Departments just have to pay for shipping.
This is no as-seen-on-TV gag. It’s real and, in Maine, the availability of this surplus material has helped police departments obtain millions’ worth of computer equipment, specialty clothing, vehicles and specialty tactical equipment without tapping increasingly strained municipal budgets.
Caribou makes the most of this military surplus program, known as the 1033 Program since it was enacted by Congress in 1997. In the past decade, Caribou has asked for and received $1.6 million worth of goods.
The Fairfield Police Department has received $663,000 worth of equipment, the second highest disbursement in Maine. According to Town Manager Dan Foster, the department has been aggressive in seeking the surplus goods because officers have found the equipment to been subject to low use and in good running order. “Access to this equipment has helped us to meet the public safety needs of our constituents while allowing us to maintain a reasonable tax burden for our community taxpayers.”
Oorah to that.
Over the same time period, the Norway Police Department received a Chevy Blazer and some rifles worth a total of $5,403, Rumford PD received $1,403 worth of computer and other gear, Lewiston received $429 worth of raincoats and gear and Farmington has received $200 worth of surplus goods. Auburn and many other departments has not received anything because it has never asked.
There is much more surplus material available now than when the program started, and program coordinators believe this trend will continue with more valuable equipment becoming available to police as our military downsizes.
Maine police departments, by and large, don’t request surplus goods as often as departments in other states. Why not?
We’ve already paid for it through our federal tax dollars. If it’s available for the asking, every department in this state ought to be asking.
Anything we can do to maintain public safety while relieving municipal budgets makes good sense.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.