PALM BEACH, Fla. (MCT) — A stolen rifle has cost the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission suspension from a federal program that provides military equipment to law enforcement agencies.
The M-16 rifle, left behind in an FWC truck in Manatee County, came from a program now under scrutiny after police in combat gear clashed with protesters following the shooting death of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo.
Since 2007, 145 agencies have been suspended from the 1033 program, including the FWC and three others in Florida.
On Sept. 9, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) will lead a federal oversight hearing on programs that equipped state and local law enforcement. McCaskill has been outspoken about the need to “de-militarize” police after Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Police in the area were seen in tanks and combat gear as thousands protested in the streets.
“We need to de-militarize this situation — this kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution,” she said.
The Defense Logistics Agency suspended the FWC Commission in June after the rifle was left behind in the driver’s seat of a FWC truck, according to a police report. Fish And Wildlife spokesperson Katie Purcell said the gun was recovered but she did not know if anyone was arrested.
FWC is now trying to to appeal the suspension, she said.
The list of suspended agencies also includes Daytona Beach Police, Sweetwater Police Department and the Volusia County Beach Safety Division. In January, Daytona Beach Police reported a M-16 rifle missing.
The program passed by Congress was designed “to assist state and federal law enforcement agencies in crime fighting and protecting their citizens,” according to the agency.
The program provides excess Department of Defense equipment ranging from sleeping bags and digital cameras to aircraft and weapons.
Latonya Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Defense Logistics Agency, which oversees the program, said the program has provided $5.1 billion dollars of equipment since it started in the early 1990s. But, according to the agency, only 5 percent of those items are weapons and less than half of 1 percent were tactical vehicles.
Records obtained by the Palm Beach Post show Palm Beach County agencies have received 63 rifles, two pistols, a utility truck and two mine resistant vehicles since 2006. Because items are dispersed by local agencies, individual records of where each weapon and item went were not provided by the DLA.
Boynton Beach and Riviera Beach police are among some of the Palm Beach County agencies participating in the 1033 program, according to the DLA.
©2014 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)
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