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Fort Worth-area police have received ‘mine-resistant’ military vehicles worth $3.7M in past 5 years

mine-resistant' vehicles (U.S. Navy/WikiCommons)

Tarrant County law enforcement agencies have received more than $4.3 million in military surplus equipment through a federal Department of Defense program over the last 20 years, according to federal records.

The equipment includes rifles, mine-resistant vehicles, armored trucks, firearm accessories and breech blocks.

Demands to demilitarize the police have come to the forefront in the larger topic of police reform after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May.

The federal 1033 — or LESO — Program has been heavily criticized since the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after a police officer fatally shot Michael Brown. Police roamed the streets in armored vehicles while carrying rifles. Similar images poured out of Minneapolis at the end of May.

In 2015, then-President Barack Obama issued an executive order that banned police departments from using certain military equipment such as grenade launchers. In 2017, President Donald Trump removed those restrictions through an executive order.

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In Tarrant County, $3.7 million worth of equipment covers mine-resistant armored vehicles — which were designed to protect soldiers from ambushes during the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The vehicles are split between five police departments: Bedford, Benbrook, Mansfield, Southlake and Waxahachie, according to federal data about the program. The Bedford Police Department also has an armored truck worth about $65,000.

As of June, there are 8,200 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies participating in the program, including 11 in Tarrant County.

Agencies across the state of Texas have received $131 million worth of equipment — DFW accounts for about $12.1 million of that, including items such as mine-resistant vehicles (12 of them), night-vision equipment, storage units, canteens and coffee makers.

The Fort Worth Police Department does not participate and hasn’t received anything from the 1033 program in more than 20 years, Officer Jimmy Pollozani said, adding that the department doesn’t possess any military vehicles or surplus equipment.

Fort Worth has two Lenco Bearcats armored vehicles that are designed for law enforcement use, he said. They were purchased with federal grant funding through the Urban Areas Security Initiative Program.

Arlington police also have a Lenco Bearcat along with a Bearcat, both of which are primarily used by the SWAT team and are brought out during community outreach events, spokesman Tim Ciesco said. Ciesco said the department is not involved in the 1033 program and doesn’t possess any military surplus.

The Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office has had an account with the 1033 Program since 2011, but there are no records of any equipment ever being purchased, Lt. Jennifer Gabbert said. No military surplus equipment has been received or used under Sheriff Bill Waybourn.

When asked in 2014 about the program, then-Sheriff Dee Anderson said he had not applied for more equipment because “it’s not the bargain people think it is” and because the department didn’t think it was necessary to have those items.

“It looks really good on the front end,” he told the Star-Telegram at the time. “The military is giving you something free. But once you look at the upkeep, the maintenance, the cost of keeping up with it winds up costing you.”

Two deputies died in 1997 after a helicopter donated by the military crashed at Kenneth Copeland Airport.

Fort Worth protesters who have walked across downtown and the West 7th District since May 31 created a petition to defund police, which includes a provision removing police access to rifles, shotguns, riot gear, armored vehicles and night observation goggles.

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© 2020 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram