What Rollback Of Military Surplus Program Means For Colorado

By Jamie Leary

DENVER (CBS4) – The Denver Police Department says it has no interest in acquiring grenade launchers or bayonets, but now, thanks to a newly signed executive order by the Trump administration, it has the option.

Last Monday, the Trump Administration fully restored the 1033 program, a program that allows the Defense Department to transfer surplus hardware to law enforcement.

The restrictions came under the Obama Administration in 2015 amid rising tensions in Ferguson, Missouri.

Obama’s order prohibited the government from providing to police the following:

– grenade launchers
– bayonets
– tracked armored vehicles
– weaponized aircraft and vehicles
– firearms and ammunition of .50-caliber or greater

armored vehicle1 What Rollback Of Military Surplus Program Means For Colorado

(credit: La Plata County Sheriff’s Office)

Additionally, the restrictions asked every participating agency to justify the need for other requested tactical gear.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the executive order on Monday saying President Barack Obama’s restrictions had gone “too far.”

Rob Rathburn, a retired Denver Police Detective, agrees with the Trump administration. He says just because an agency has a grenade launcher doesn’t mean it’s intended for regular use.

“This is gear that taxpayers paid for and it’s sitting in a warehouse somewhere,” said Rathburn.

The ACLU was quick to criticize the program when CBS4 interviewed the organization in 2014, just before the restrictions took effect.

“They escalate the risk of unnecessary violence … they often result in tragedy for innocent civilians,” said Mark Silverstein, Legal Director for the ACLU.

Rathburn says the occasions an agency would use things like a tracked armored vehicle or a bayonet are rare.

“A lot of this gear is like a fire extinguisher. You don’t think about a fire extinguisher until your house is on fire and then you’re going to want one. You’re going to want a big one that pumps a lot of water,” Rathburn said.

Rathburn calls the program a godsend, especially for rural areas with a slim budget.

“This gear is for use in the gravest extreme. When you have a public safety event that’s so horrendous that you need personnel in there right away and establish peace and order or establish a rescue. If you look at our own history in Denver at Columbine, you’ll recall the famous picture of the kid in the window that was rescued by the Lakewood officers, they had to borrow a fire truck to get up to that window and fire departments are pretty reluctant to lend out gear that might get shot at. That’s an example of the gravest extreme where it’s nice to have these pieces of gear.”

Despite his support, Rathburn still can’t figure out exactly what law enforcement would need a bayonet for.

“Ya know free somebody from some entrapped situation and I guess a bayonet might be useful for that I mean I think there’s better tools available on the market than a surplus rusty bayonet.” saaid Rathburn.

According to the The Defense Logistics Agency, under previous restrictions police agencies had returned to the military:

– 126 tracked armored vehicles
– 138 grenade launchers
– 1,623 bayonets

In Colorado, Fremont county had two grenade launchers but had to give them back. The same is true for Moffatt County. It’s not clear if those agencies will once again ask for grenade launchers.

The trend, at least this year, shows less interest in assault weapons and more interest things like warm layers for the cold weather and first aid kits.

The Defense Logistics Agency keeps track of everything agencies have in stock through this program. It’s updated quarterly so you can track exatcly who gets what, what it cost the military and how much the agency has requested.

Jamie Leary joined the CBS4 team in 2015. She is currently a reporter for CBS4 This Morning, which means she is always on the go, covering a wide variety of breaking local news and important local events. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @JamieALeary.

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