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Military has given millions in surplus equipment to Wis. police

By NICO SAVIDGE | The Wisconsin State Journal | Published: December 6, 2014

(TNS) — The Dane County Sheriff’s Office used a controversial military surplus program to acquire 151 rifles from the Department of Defense.

Madison police and 23 other law enforcement agencies across Wisconsin each received a mine-resistant armored vehicle from the program.

Police in Sturgeon Bay got an outboard motor out of it, among other items.

The Department of Defense has given Wisconsin police departments and sheriff’s offices $25.6 million worth of surplus military equipment since 1997, according to a federal database.

The Defense Logistics Agency, which oversees the 1033 program, as it’s known, released the extensive database late last month, showing what law enforcement agencies in every state and U.S. territory have received.

The program has come under fire in recent months from critics and lawmakers who say it has accelerated a militarization of American police departments.

“Neighborhoods are not war zones, and police officers should not treat the people they’re policing like wartime enemies,” said Molly Collins, associate director of the ACLU of Wisconsin.

Law enforcement officials, meanwhile, say the equipment they receive protects officers and the public without straining local budgets.

“It’s really meant a lot to us,” Juneau County Sheriff Brent Oleson said. His agency accepted $1.3 million worth of equipment, according to the database, the second-most of any in the state.

“A lot of the equipment we got through the program we wouldn’t have been able to get,” Oleson said.

The equipment sent to Wisconsin includes 24 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, worth a combined $17.1 million.

They were acquired by agencies in every corner of the state — from the Racine County Sheriff’s Office to the Superior Police Department — and in jurisdictions as small as Forest County, which has a population of 9,000.

Eight other police departments received other types of armored vehicles.

The mine-resistant vehicles have been among the 1033 program’s most controversial pieces of equipment, as critics question whether the multi-ton trucks, built to withstand bomb blasts, are necessary for civilian police departments.

Madison police have defended their decision to acquire one?, emphasizing its ability to protect officers and civilians in shootings and rechristening it an “Armored Rescue Vehicle.” They championed the vehicle in October after it helped officers arrest a man who had fired a rifle at police cars.

By volume, much of the equipment given to police is not controversial, as departments in Wisconsin have used it to acquire computer monitors, sweatpants, parkas and binoculars. Oleson said a boat his agency acquired ?has been particularly useful.

Collins said the 1033 program has plenty of reasonable uses. The ACLU’s concern, she said, was making sure there is adequate public oversight of the program so that police are not “waging war on communities.”

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©2014 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC