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La Salle County Sheriff’s Department tactical response team officers (from left) Tom Pocivasek, Dave Guinee, Sheriff Tom Templeton and Jason Martin pose with the department’s three military surplus Humvees, which the department has put to use in search-and-rescue missions. NewsTribune photo/Chris Yucus
Rachel Stella and Kim Shute
By Rachel Stella and Kim Shute NewsTribune Staff
Attention is on the military surplus program in light of the clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson, Mo., this past month.
Now President Barack Obama is ordering a review of the practice of granting military surplus to police departments.
La Salle County Sheriff Tom Templeton will continue watching the conflict in Missouri. If the government fulfills a proposal on restricting military surplus, it could have an impact on the county.
Over the past two years, Templeton has applied for and received vehicles and tactical equipment (no weapons) valued at nearly $400,000 — and the only cost the county incurred was the price of shipping it to Ottawa.
Chief among these is Humvees. Templeton’s fleet now has three of them and they proved their worth repeatedly during this year’s grinding winter.
“The summer has its own set of challenges, but the winter time clearly has shown those hummers are literally life-savers,” he said. “We’ve been able to get to places in the snow in the Humvees we wouldn’t have even gotten to in the trucks.”
Military surplus has proven to be a bonanza with other life-saving gear. The sheriff’s office has, for example, procured cold-weather clothing that has enabled deputies to spend long hours in the cold and snow.
For security reasons, Templeton declined to discuss his specific inventory of tactical equipment but did say he has no weapons or drones.
“The tactical equipment we have is more geared toward surveillance,” he said. “We have no drones, but we do use things like night-vision equipment that help us with drug raids and barricade situations.”
And while the surplus doesn’t come with price tags attached, Templeton estimated he’s received valuable vehicles and gear at a price that cannot be beaten.
“We’ve gotten all this stuff for free,” he said. “The only thing we’ve paid for is shipping. I’d say we’ve gotten $350,000 to $400,000 worth of equipment since we started doing this two years ago.”
Justifying the need Peru police chief Doug Bernabei said that although his department has not participated in the military surplus program, he supports the availability of such equipment to police departments.
“There’s been a movement across law enforcement — whether small, medium or large in size — to secure new equipment that historically was not probably needed in the law enforcement community,” he said. “Obviously, our society has changed in the last few decades. Some of those changes aren’t really good.”
Bernabei said that police in major cities particularly need to be concerned with international terrorism, but that domestic crime was becoming worse as well.
“There are more military weapons used by the criminals,” he said. “Frankly, I think the criminals were starting to outgun the cops.”
All Peru officers carry assault rifles in locked vaults within their vehicles, Bernabei said, adding that assault rifles were becoming standard police equipment to deal with situations such as school shootings.
“If you have that type of situation, then you have the type of weapon that can take out that threat, if necessary,” he said.
Peru’s rifles were purchased from the manufacturer so every officer would have an identical weapon, Bernabei said.
Low cost Princeton police chief Tom Root, a 35-year Army veteran, said his department has long been participating in a program with the Law Enforcement Support Office or LESO, which disburses excess new and used military equipment including such things as vehicles, clothing, computers and more.
Root said the program is an excellent opportunity for departments such as Princeton’s, which would never otherwise be able to afford the extra equipment. Root said the military regularly cycles out all its equipment, and by doing so, government agencies such as the police department are able to benefit from that without additional cost to taxpayers.
Root said his department has been able to get its hands on several trucks which the city uses, vehicles that can be used in bad weather or during search and rescue, an ambulance that was converted to carry people or equipment, a van, as well as a plethora of supplies for the Special Response Team, including armor, clothing and mobile search robots.
In addition, the department has several tents that are air-conditioned and large enough to hold up to 300 people each, generators and other disaster supplies.
According to Root, at this point the city has about everything they would need, but they do get notice when other items become available.
“It’s just an excellent resource,” he said. “The ambulance we got had only 7,000 miles on it. Buying something like that new would be almost $100,000, and we got it for the cost of transportation.”
Force overkill? Though most of the pieces acquired by Princeton Police are for use in emergency-type situations, Root said they have to be careful about the perception of certain equipment.
“Humvees come in painted in tactical camo or desert tan — you have the option whether to repaint them, but for us that’s just another added expense,” he said. “We use ours when needed, but it gives the image if you have these tactical vehicles, the public gets the impression something’s about to ‘go down’ or something bad has happened. People see them and think the military is in town. That’s generally why we don’t use ours so much.”
Regarding the situation in Ferguson, Bernabei he didn’t see didn’t see any police action he thought was inappropriate.
“Everyone is watching the cable news. They’re only getting bits and pieces of what’s going on,” he said. “It’s being portrayed as a much more military action than that’s actually taking place. Frankly, I don’t think there’s been enough military action.”
Bernabei said people should exercise their right to protest “in a civil way.”
“You can protest appropriately, but you don’t have the unconditional right to go protest any way you want,” he said. “You don’t have a right to be in the middle of a group that’s throwing rocks and bottles and firing guns.”
Rachel Stella can be reached at (815) 220-6933 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @NT_LaSalle. Kim Shute can be reached at (815) 879-5200 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @NT_Princeton2. Tom Collins contributed to this report.
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