Justification for free military surplus questioned

A Freedom of Information Act request to the federal Defense Logistics Agency has revealed new information about the Dewey Beach Police Department’s participation in a military surplus program since 2013.

Like all law enforcement agencies that get free military surplus items through the federal Law Enforcement Support Office’s 1033 program, the DBPD must provide a justification of need for each request. Until now, those have not been made available to the public.

Largely, the DBPD’s LESO-obtained items are justified by things like emergency situations and summer crowds.

For example, on March 11, 2015, the department requested and was granted two all-terrain vehicles, explaining they would be used “to patrol the beach during the summer and to use during special events.”

On April 17, 2015, the department requested and was granted a space heater “to provide heat during a natural disaster when officers and civilians need to be relocated to locations where there is no infrastructure to provide heat.”

And on March 2, 2016, the department requested and was granted a winter jacket “to wear during winter weather at the outdoor firing range and during training exercises.”

Typically, each request taken by itself seems reasonable.

However, among hundreds of line items turned over between March 2013 and December 2017, the police acquired a total of 12 ATVs, 51 jackets or parkas and 13 space heaters, and 19 trucks of all kinds (see sidebar).

Dewey’s department has just eight full-time and three part-time officers, the town population is less than 400 people and the town itself is a just mile long and two blocks wide.

Over the years the department has received more than $3 million worth of surplus. It is important to note, however, that the value of each LESO item is original cost to the DoD – not actual value. Sometimes things arrive damaged or unusable. In addition, law enforcement agencies are rarely provided with particulars, such as size.

Most vehicles given to the 32 law enforcement agencies in the state that belong to the program are classified as Demil A or Demil Q. That means they can be sold or scrapped after one calendar year from receipt. Others, like Dewey Beach’s armored Humvee and Milford’s mine-resistant armored car, can only be returned to the DoD when no longer needed.

Mysterious firing range

Aside from the sheer quantity of equipment obtained through the program, many of the justifications are questionable.

For example, requests for things like boats and outboard motors are justified by potential water rescues, which are the job of the beach patrol and the Coast Guard. ATVs have been requested in order to perform “homeland security patrols.” An ax was requested to break into burning homes.

One justification refers to a potential “WMD” incident.

In an emergency situation, however rare, it’s plausible the police might use LESO items for the reasons submitted to the federal government and Delaware’s oversight officer, the state “point of contact” or POC. The SPOC has to approve each request before it is processed at the LESO headquarters. The office, in Michigan, can and does turn down requests for equipment.

But on April 20, 2016, the DBPD requested a tractor because: “The Dewey Beach police would utilize this equipment at the newly acquired firing range to repair backstop berms periodically.”

Between March 2013 and December 2017, the firing range is mentioned over 50 times in the DBPD’s justifications of need, including for a lawn mower, a grill, multiple tractors and cold-weather clothing.

The Town of Dewey Beach does not own or insure a firing range, and the police department refused to disclose its location, but one DBPD officer said that they use a public firing range in Bridgeville.

Dewey Beach Mayor TJ Redefer, when asked, was unable to say where the firing range is.

Fred Townsend, the town solicitor, said that he had been “led to believe” that DBPD officers use a Delaware State Police firing range. The Delaware State Police have one firing range, and it is in Smyrna.

Commissioners in the dark

In November the Dewey Beach commissioners voted to ask the police department to provide them with a full report of its participation in the LESO program, including justifications of need.

At their Feb. 10 meeting, Commissioner Gary Persinger lamented, “We’re three months down the road and we don’t have information in response to that request.”

As of March 1, Redefer said had not yet been privy to the departmental  justifications of need.

The commissioners voted last year to have TGM Group, a Salisbury accounting firm, review police department policies and procedures. According to Redefer, the review was recently completed and “meetings will be scheduled to share their findings very soon.”

 THE ROSTER OF VEHICLES

Nineteen trucks were received through the LESO program between March 2013 and December 2017. About 30 other trucks, from pickups to buses and an armored vehicle, were requested and denied, and 10 more were requested but had already been granted to a different agency. Visit sussexlivingde.com for the full list and their justifications of need. The exact type of truck is indicated by an “NSN” number, not shown here. Source: Defense Logistics Agency

Dewey Beach Police Department’s trucks:

DATE

REQUESTED

 

ITEM

 

JUSTIFICATION OF NEED

03/31/2014

TRUCK, CARGO

… requests this equipment for conducting law enforcement activities such as transporting police officers and equipment to and from major incidents. It would be beneficial to our agency to pulling our vehicles off the beach that get stuck with its winch. The equipment would also be used during coastal storms and other weather related emergencies to provide fuel.

07/21/2014

TRUCK, CARGO

…  request this vehicle to haul department equipment. Currently the department has to use officers personal trucks or borrow them. This truck would also be used to pick up LESO equipment

08/16/2014

TRUCK, CARGO

…  requests this pickup to haul heavy equipment to and from the police department. This is a heavy duty truck that could pull our trailers to and from bases to pick up LESO equipment also. Currently officers use their own trucks.

09/17/2014

TRUCK, CARGO

… requests this truck to be used as a prisoner transport unit. Currently we have one that is no longer operable and this truck is ready to be used as a transport unit. Dept. will install radios and decals on it and put it into service immediately.

03/17/2015

TRUCK, CARGO

... requests this cargo truck to be used to transport manpower and materials during hurricanes and coastal storms. The vehicle will be able to travel through high water and will also be used during winter storms such as blizzards.

06/16/2015

TRUCK, CARGO

… requests this truck for use during major coastal storms and hurricanes. The high clearance of this vehicle will allow us to evacuate persons and property and access areas that cannot be reached by patrol vehicles. Our agency would also use this vehicle during major snow storms to get through high snow and drifts.

03/23/2015

TRUCK, DUMP

... requests this truck for the purpose of hauling material and equipment. The truck would also be used to haul debris during coastal storms, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

04/21/2015

TRUCK, LIFT, FORK

… requests this forklift truck to use to load and unload trucks that deliver equipment and supplies at the police department. The department can also use this forklift to remove debris after a major coastal storm.

10/16/2015

TRUCK, LIFT, FORK

… will be utilized …  to clear debris from roadways during times of weather emergencies or aftermath of a disaster.

02/02/2016

TRUCK, LIFT, FORK

... requests a fork lift truck to use to unload and load heavy items. Our agency would also use this piece of equipment to lift and remove heavy debris from the roads and beach in the aftermath of coastal storms.

04/04/2014

TRUCK, SERVICING PLATFORM

... requests this equipment for conducting maintenance on the police department's town-wide crime cameras. It would be beneficial as renting a service vehicle is a huge burden on our law enforcement budget and the agency frequently has to perform maintenance such as cleaning the lenses on the camera domes.

11/05/2015

TRUCK, STAKE

... request this truck to use for picking up and transporting tall items and equipment that the department gets from the 1033 program. We would also use the truck for debris removal after a coastal storm.

01/17/2014

TRUCK, UTILITY

… will be utilized for homeland security purposes coastal storm patrol response and drug enforcement. Currently the trucks in our possession do not have hardened doors or top.

10/14/2015

TRUCK, UTILITY

… would be utilized … during times of large weather events.  And would replace an aging vehicle.

02/11/2016

TRUCK, UTILITY

... requests this small utility truck to haul equipment to and from special events. The truck would also be available for use during coastal storms to relocate property from areas prone to flooding.

03/13/2017

TRUCK, VAN

... request this vehicle to be used as a prisoner transportation unit.  The department is down one transport van and has been actively looking for another one. The department would use this vehicle to transport prisoners to court and jail.

06/04/2014

TRUCK, WRECKER

… requests this item to pull our 4x4 vehicle off the beach when it gets stuck. The department also has to pull our utility vehicles off the beach when they get stuck also. The town also has the maintenance equipment that becomes stuck in the sand from time to time and the wrecker would be used to pull them out also. During coastal storms they department could use this equipment to pull large items out of the way.

03/10/2015

TRUCK, WRECKER

... request this wrecker truck for the purpose of removing police patrol vehicles that get stuck in the sand while out patrolling the beach. During winter storms this wrecker truck would be used to pull vehicles out that become stranded in snow banks or that run off the road.

09/16/2015

TRUCKS AND TRUCK TRACTORS

... request this truck to haul and store equipment in. Being the truck is enclosed it would protect our equipment from the weather. The truck would also be used to pick up items through the 1033 program.