Which Massachusetts Police Departments Has the Pentagon Armored Up?

Many departments got tanks, mine-resistant vehicles, and military assault rifles—just don't ask State Police who got what.

The Defense Department program that tricked out Ferguson police with helicopters and rifles has also given millions of dollars worth of equipment to Massachusetts cops. Police departments across the Commonwealth have scored two honest-to-God tanks, three mine-resistant vehicles, a couple of grenade launchers, plus some 900 assault rifles and 100 Humvees.

Just don’t ask the Massachusetts State Police who got what.

Created in 1991, the Pentagon’s 1033 program funnels excess military equipment—from office supplies and clothing to weapons and tactical vehicles—to state and local police. The program has doled out $5 billion in equipment since 1990, including more than $750 million between January and July 2014 alone.

Massachusetts has gotten its share. The 1033 program roster features 117 Massachusetts departments, including Cambridge, Somerville, Quincy, Watertown and Worcester. Boston police don’t participate, but the state police, environmental police and MBTA transit police all do.

Spreadsheets released by the Pentagon show that Massachusetts agencies have received a total of 579 M16 rifles, 349 M14 rifles and 85 automatic pistols via the 1033 program.

But the Defense Department and the state police, which coordinates the program for Massachusetts, both insist that releasing a breakdown of which departments received which equipment would jeopardize public safety.

“Disclosing the weapons, and thus certain capabilities, of a police department provides a tactical edge to criminals or terrorists,” replied MSP spokesman David Procopio, when pressed for details regarding 1033 equipment distributions.

But several Massachusetts cities evidently disagree. A number of departments have themselves released details regarding the 1033 program. Cambridge police received 25 M16 rifles, department officials confirmed, while Worcester obtained thirty M14 rifles in 1999 and 40 M16 rifles in 2002, plus four utility trucks.

UMass-Amherst police received a Humvee in 2012, which the deputy chief indicates was “painted as a Community Policing vehicle” to be used “in parades, car shows and other community events.”

Other departments are similarly eager to show off their military surplus haul. Rehobeth police sent out a press release about the three Humvees it won in 2012, and last month gave WHDH crews a photo opp with the mine-resistant vehicle it obtained earlier this year.

New Bedford police also received a mine-resistant vehicle in 2014, as did another as-yet unidentified department in Essex County.

In fact, last November the state police released an agency-by-agency listing of equipment requested via the 1033 program. But its lawyers now refuse to disclose which departments actually had those requests fulfilled.

Nationwide, more than 30 other states have turned over agency-by-agency data, leaving Mass. in the minority of refuseniks. California, Texas, Florida and Connecticut all released comprehensive 1033 equipment inventories, while only six states beside Massachusetts rejected similar requests.

In response to a request submitted by MuckRock, a lawyer for the state police cited a provision in Massachusetts law that exempts records such as blueprints and security measures from release.

The rejection, which MuckRock is appealing, means several high-profile equipment transfers remain unaccounted for. This includes two artillery vehicles that look like this: one such tank was transferred to Norfolk County in 2009, and another to Worcester County in 2000, but no department contacted so far in either county has confirmed receiving one.

“The public has a right to know how law enforcement does business, including whether or not they may one day see a military truck painted in police colors rolling down their residential street,” says Kade Crockford of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Presumably people in the more than thirty states that have released agency-specific figures on military gifts to police departments are doing just fine.”