(WBIR-Knoxville) As events in Ferguson put the militarization of local police departments in the national spotlight, 10News obtained data that shows East Tennessee counties have received millions of dollars worth of U.S. military gear for free through a federal surplus program.
The data was compiled from the Defense Logistics Agency, which operates the Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO), does not specify which agencies received equipment from the LESO.
Since 2006, the report shows Knox County received a mine resistant vehicle worth $733,000, a utility helicopter worth $922,704, an observation helicopter worth more than $92,000, three utility trucks valued at nearly $125,000, along with automatic rifles, pistols, magazines, tents, and other tactical gear.
"We used the mine resistant vehicle at the standoff back in May, when a suspect opened fire off Cedar Bluff," said Chief Eddie Biggs, with the Knox County Sheriff's Office. "All of the equipment is at no cost to the taxpayer, and we help other local counties.
Biggs said the military gear protects officers and citizens, and saves taxpayer dollars since the county does not have to buy the gear.
"It helps us assist communities across East Tennessee, and often the equipment is used in rescue missions and other incidents," said Biggs.
10News talked to Chief David Rausch, with the Knoxville Police Department regarding the city's equipment obtained from LESO. He wrote a personal commentary on the issue.
COMMENTARY: KPD Chief Rausch on military equipment
Smaller counties with less crime have also received free U.S. military equipment through the surplus program.
Scott County received a mine resistant ambush protective vehicle valued at $658,000.
Blount County has received 23 automatic rifles, a grenade launcher worth nearly $5,000, and a $48,000 utility truck.
The program equipped Loudon County with more than $2.5 million in cargo, utility, tank, and dump trucks. One tank truck was listed at nearly $400,000.
According to Defense Logistics Agency, the total value of equipment provided to law enforcement agencies nationwide is $5.1 billion, with less than 1% being tactical vehicles.
Congress authorized the program initially in 1990 for use in counter-drug activities. The National Authorization Act for 1996-1997 further authorized the transfer of extra equipment to include counter-drug and counter-terrorism missions.
In order to be approved, DLA said state coordinators are required to have a plan of operation that details how they will remain compliant with the program's guidance, policies, and procedures.