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Jefferson County Sheriff Stocks Up Through Federal Miltary Surplus Program

A national conversation about the militarization of police hassprung up amid the recent unrestand protests over the police shooting of a teen in Missouri.In Louisville, records show that local law enforcement agencies have stocked up significantly on military-style weapons and tools, reaping the benefits of the National Defense Authorization ActThe law—specifically section 1033—allows local law enforcement agencies across the U.S. to receive excess military equipment at no cost.  The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office has been a major beneficiary of the program.The sheriff's office obtained 138 M16 rifles (valued at $499 each), 15 M14 Rifles ($138 each), a utility truck ($47,455) and an armored personnel carrier ($200,000) through what's commonly called the "1033 program," according to Kentucky State Police data obtained through an open records request.These items are in addition to the standard sidearm pistols and tactical shotguns carried by many deputies.“I’d say right now we are adequately armed,” said Lt. Col. Carl Yates, a spokesman for the sheriff's office. Earlier: Kentucky Police Get Guns, Aircraft—and Socks—From Military Surplus ProgramYates said the 1033 program allowed the agency to acquire  items they would otherwise have not been able to because of budgetary restraints.The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office has a working budget of just more than $22 million and about 95 percent of that comes from property taxes, Yates said.The sheriff's office is tasked with several responsibilities. Most notably it serves more than 80,000 court-ordered papers every year, Yates said. That can mean domestic violence warrants, which he said are the riskiest, or it could be a civil litigation notice.  Deputies also are responsible for providing security to all Jefferson County Circuit and District courtrooms and courthouses.  The sheriff's office provides transportation for all prisoners in the state and they inspect more than 50,000 automobiles every year.  Deputies also provide assistance to other law enforcement agencies as needed, Yates added.The sheriff's office has 250 sworn deputies.The M16 rifles obtained through the 1033 program are otherwise known as “patrol rifles” and are considered “just in case weapons,” Yates said.In fact, he says that no Jefferson County deputy has ever fired an M16 rifle while on duty.  “But they’re good to have if you need them,” Yates said.  “It gives you an additional edge if you need it, and they’re very accurate.”M16 rifles are carried by all deputies in patrol cruisers and by special unit officers, such as those on the Special Response Team. That unit boasts 14 members and has been deployed 3 times this year.Yates said it would be safe to assume that if you see deputy sheriffs on patrol, they have an M16 readily available. Those rifles carried by patrolling deputies are secured within the vehicle so as the “average schmuck can’t get to it,” Yates said.But in 2012, one of those rifles was stolen from a cruiser parked at a deputy's home. After that incident, the sheriff's office's vehicle security measures were beefed up in effort to prevent any future break-ins, Yates said this week.The agency also has 15 M14 rifles, which are smaller and intended for use in ceremony, like 21-gun salutes.The $200,000 armored personnel carrier? It’s defunct. “We have never used this, it doesn’t have any armament on it,” Yates said.  Yates said that if it was to be used in the field some costly maintenance work would be needed along with a fresh coat of paint to cover up the military-issue camouflage.The idea behind the sheriff's office acquiring an armored personnel carrier, Yates said, was to have the equipment that would be needed in a worst-case scenario. For example, blocking the path of bullets in order to attend to or extract a wounded officer, deputy or civilian.“That’s the thought behind even having that,” he said.Having such weapons on hand is essential for law enforcement agencies, said Les Poole, the former director of police personnel for Scotland Yard, the Metropolitan Police Department in London, England.Poole, who worked 40 years in law enforcement, now works as a New York-based consultant assists with audits on sheriff's offices across the country and with the National Sheriff’s Association.“If you have armed people then  you need to use the force that’s necessary to combat that,” Poole said. But Maria Haberfeld, chair of John Jay College's Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration, said there's a risk to having such equipment, too. Like when leaders allow the items to be used in inappropriate situations such as crowd control.Another risk is that "police officers might develop some sort of a sub-cultural understanding that they are more like soldiers than police officers," said Haberfeld, who added that the equipment can be beneficial in "very specific high threat level situations."Yates said the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office weapons training program  is extensive. He said the 1033 program is good for law enforcement and, in turn, good for the community.“The community is able to better equip its law enforcement agency at no cost to them,” he said. “It has enabled us to have the kinds of tools that many other police departments have across the country."Poole, the policing consultant, said highly-equipped law enforcement with highly advanced weapons and equipment is becoming the norm throughout the country. And it’s not going away anytime soon.“You’ve got a culture that is a gun culture,” Poole said.  “You can’t meet a gun culture with sheets of paper and saying ‘boo’ to people.”

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.