Law enforcement agencies across Tennessee got almost $30 million worth of military surplus equipment through two federal programs last year — tripling the previous year’s haul – and this year, the amount doubled again and Tennessee pulled in equipment worth $63 million.
So reports the Tennessean, adding that those big gains have ranked Tennessee among the top 10 military surplus states in recent years. Altogether, Tennessee law enforcement programs have received more than $321 million in federally-purchased equipment since 1993. The supply has increased as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down.
Amid the bonanza for Nashville and bordering counties: 10 mine-resistant trucks and four other armored vehicles, more than 300 assault rifles, and a smattering of helicopters, boats, trucks and tractors.
Across the state, some 41,000 items, ranging from the high-tech and the lethal to the peculiar, have padded police inventories. Unicoi County got enough brass instruments to start a marching band — two saxophones, a flugelhorn, four sousaphones and more — while neighboring Washington County got the state’s single priciest item, a $5 million communications system.
Putting military might into the hands of police raises some alarms for experts like Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York City officer and prosecutor and a law and police studies professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
“I would give all the cautionary notes. I would give all the reservations,” he said. “It’s obviously going to be a very difficult issue to navigate through.
“But I think most Americans don’t necessarily mind supportive-type equipment, like helicopters. Defensive stuff, I think, may not look good, but there’s probably a case for some of this armor to be worn.”