Data quietly released after more than a year of wrangling finally reveals which Massachusetts police departments have received excess military equipment via a Pentagon program that has drawn scrutiny in recent months.
Inventory spreadsheets show one tank given to Norfolk police and one to the state corrections department in Milford. The list also includes three mine-resistant vehicles worth more than $600,000 each given to police in Haverhill, New Bedford, and Rehoboth in the past year.
The Defense Department’s 1033 program funnels excess military equipment—from office supplies and clothing to weapons and tactical vehicles—to state and local police across the country, all for the price of shipping. The program has doled out $5 billion in equipment since it was signed into existence in 1990. The equipment handouts have attracted considerable criticism since protests in Ferguson, Missouri, splashed images around the world of protesters facing police in military gear.
For months, state officials have insisted that information about which departments got what is not fit for public disclosure, despite many departments’ willingness to disclose and even publicize their hauls. But Massachusetts remained among the handful of states that refused to release detailed inventory spreadsheets in response to public records requests submitted by MuckRock.
State police officials agreed to indicate the county to which equipment was distributed, but not the particular department that received it.
In late November, without any announcement, the Defense Department posted detailed inventories online for the entire country.
The inventories show that Norfolk police received its $200,000 armored personnel carrier in November 2009, while the state corrections department got its tank back in 2000. Norfolk police chief Charles Stone, Jr. says the vehicle has been useful in snowstorms and to traverse rough terrain.
“We have used it to search for subjects who were believed to be in the woods to commit suicide,” says Stone, “and it was used in one incident where an individual had weapons available and he needed to be arrested for domestic assault.”
Contrary to state police officials’ insistence on keeping its location a secret, the chief said that the tank has been showcased at community events in several towns. Norfolk police also received two Humvees via the 1033 program in 2012.
The state police, which administers the program for Massachusetts, is also one of its best customers. In May 2014, the state police scored a snow removal truck worth more than $500,000, while the previous September brought a $300,000 cargo truck. The state police have also obtained 58 assault rifles and several Humvees.
While Boston police are not enrolled, several departments in Greater Boston have obtained tactical equipment through the 1033 program. In September 2014, Chelsea received 10 M-16 rifles. Cambridge received 25 M-16 rifles in December 2010, while Somerville got 26 M-16s in 2012. Watertown got eight M-14 rifles in 2006.
Since 2008, Revere has taken five Humvees, 20 M-16s, four M-14s, and 30 automatic pistols, plus 15 night vision scopes worth more than $3,000 each. Police in Quincy used the program to obtain seven Humvees in 2012 and ten M-16 rifles in 2006, while Worcester has received a total of 70 rifles and three Humvees.
Much smaller departments also participate, including police at a handful of colleges. UMass-Amherst police received one Humvee in June 2014 and another in 2012. Salem State College received two rifles in 2009, while Wentworth Institute of Technology police took three advanced rifle sights in 2011.
Among the more bizarre tactical equipment giveaways were a shipment of 27 bayonet knives to Clinton police this past August, as well as three mine detection sets awarded to Westport police in March 2011.
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