A military surplus vehicle requisitioned by the Pinal County, Ariz., Sheriff's Office. / Courtesy of the Pinal County Sheriff's Office
PHOENIX -- Over the past 25 years, Arizona law-enforcement agencies have received enough U.S. military equipment to outfit a battalion: 1,034 guns, 64 armored vehicles and 17 helicopters, according to the American Civil Liberties Union's latest report on the militarization of American policing.
Most of the arsenal was obtained free through the Defense Logistics Agency's so-called 1033 program, which transfers new and used military equipment to state and local police.
The national report, released Tuesday, says that American policing has become "excessively militarized" and that these federal programs "create incentives for state and local police to use unnecessarily aggressive weapons."
"What we have seen is this extremely alarming trend of local police departments being equipped with weapons and tactics of war," said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. "It encourages overly aggressive policing."
The ACLU based its Arizona figures on public-records requests from 10 police agencies, including the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, the Pinal County Sheriff's Office and the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Soler said.
The figures include equipment given to Arizona law enforcement from the program's inception through 2012.
Matthew Van Camp, state coordinator for the 1033 program and a Payson police detective, said that the ACLU never contacted his office about the program and that the figures do not accurately represent the equipment currently in use at Arizona law-enforcement agencies.
For instance, the report states that the agencies have received 17 helicopters from the program, but he said only two are in use.
"Pinal County Sheriff and Maricopa County Sheriff's Offices both have aircraft, and Mojave County has one, but it's non-operational," Van Camp said.
As for the number of guns given to law enforcement over the course of the program, Van Camp said the number could be accurate.
"It's probably pretty close," he said. "In the last year, we've had several agencies turn their weapons in, too, so since 2012 we've probably reduced that number."
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, whose department has obtained 94 rifles, two armored vehicles and three helicopters through the program, said the equipment has helped defend Arizona against cartels and has made up for budget shortfalls.
"There was a SWAT vehicle. We didn't have enough money to pay for one, and we were able to receive one through the 1033 program," Babeu said. "This was an immense help to budgets that were already strapped."
In 2012, the Pinal County Sheriff's Office became embroiled in a scandal when The Republic reported that Babeu "lent" military equipment to other Pinal agencies that weren't involved in law enforcement, such as fire departments. As a result, the Defense Logistics Agency briefly suspended the program while re-writing the national rules for the 1033 program to clarify that loans of property are not allowed.
Babeu was forced to recall the equipment he had lent those agencies.
The 1033 program has since been reinstated.
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