The Minneapolis Star Tribune says cash-strapped police departments in Minnesota and elsewhere are saving money by buying equipment from military surplus. The Minnesota State Patrol this year has paid next to nothing for $630,000 worth of night vision goggles, infrared cameras, radios and other items. The Coon Rapids Police Department acquired 60 M-16 rifles from the database, several months after the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office obtained 70 of the weapons. Police departments across the country are getting free military equipment in record-setting numbers through a Defense Department program that makes retired or surplus items available to them.
Nationally, the value of goods obtained by local agencies jumped from $213 million in 2010 to nearly $500 million in 2011, and, at $419 million so far this year, it’s on pace to easily surpass that total. Hundreds of thousands of items — from rifles to office supplies, clothing to aircraft — are available through the Law Enforcement Support Office, which has existed since 1997. Requests are reviewed by its offices at the state level. While law enforcement sees a chance to get equipment for bargain costs, the increasing use of the program has drawn criticism from those who ask why police need military-grade weapons and worry about the image that these weapons convey.