Minnesota sheriff defends military surplus grenade launcher
By DAVID UNZE | St. Cloud Times, Minn. (Tribune News Service) | Published: May 19, 2015
Dozens of rifles and handguns and a few mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles have made their way from the military to law enforcement agencies in Central Minnesota.
But a USA Today analysis of what local law enforcement has shows that most departments don't have any of the military surplus that President Barack Obama plans to bar local officers from getting in the future.
Obama identified tracked armored vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers, large caliber weapons and ammunition as surplus that law enforcement agencies won't be able to acquire via transfer from the feds or by purchase using federal funds.
In Central Minnesota, a few agencies have armored vehicles and infrared and night vision equipment. The most common type of surplus coming to area law enforcement agencies includes rifles, handguns and ammunition.
Sheriff's departments in Mille Lacs and Sherburne counties and the Milaca Police Department have gotten grenade launchers from the military, according to the USA Today analysis. The launchers have a practical use that gets lost in the discussion when people hear the words "military surplus" and "grenade launcher," said Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott.
His department uses the equipment to deploy tear gas when law enforcement can't get close to its target because of safety concerns, he said.
He defended having what he called a "gas gun" that is similar to what any law enforcement agency can buy. His department has had one since the early 1990s and got its first military surplus launcher in 2007, he said.
The department paid only for the shipping cost in a deal that saves taxpayers money on something he would have even if the federal government hadn't provided one, he said.
If the federal government demands he return the launcher, "I'll buy another one," Brott said.
The last time it was used was two years ago when a man shot his wife to death in the garage of their Becker Township home then holed up inside his home.
The military launcher has better accuracy and can be used from a greater distance (30-40 yards versus 15-20 yards) than what the department had in the early 1990s, he said.
The only difference between what he has and what can be bought at a store or via the web is that his equipment is "military grade."
"The gas gun they describe is no different than what you could buy off the shelf," Brott said.
His department has a wide variety of surplus military equipment, including night vision equipment, infrared illuminators, rifles, photographic equipment and an all-weather copier, according to the USA Today analysis.
St. Cloud Police Department has an MRAP, an armored truck and 35 rifles that are military surplus.
Police Chief Blair Anderson said he doesn't see why his department would need any of the items the Obama administration is restricting.
"Nor would I want any of these things," Anderson said. "I can't see any good reason why an officer, tactical or otherwise, would need a bayonet."
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A belt of 40 mm grenades is fed into an Mk-19 grenade launcher during a live-fire range aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., April 30, 2015. The federal government will stop sending grenade launchers, weapons mounted on airplanes, and some other types of military gear to local police under new rules approved by President Barack Obama.
OLIVIA MCDONALD/U.S. MARINE CORPS