MORVEN, Ga. — Small-town police departments across the country have been gobbling up tons of equipment discarded by a downsizing military — bicycles, bed sheets, bowling pins, French horns, dog collars, even a colonoscopy machine — regardless of whether the items are needed or will ever be used.
In the tiny farming community of Morven, Ga., the police chief has grabbed three boats, scuba gear, rescue rafts and a couple of dozen life preservers. The town’s deepest body of water: an ankle-deep creek.
An Associated Press investigation of the Defense Department program, originally aimed at helping local law enforcement fight terrorism and drug trafficking, found that a disproportionate share of the $4.2 billion worth of property distributed since 1990 has been obtained by police departments and sheriff’s offices in rural areas with few officers and little crime.
The national giveaway program operates with scant oversight, and the surplus military gear often sits in storage, the AP found.
Using a series of public records requests, the AP obtained thousands of pages of emails and other documents related to the program locally and nationally. The documents, along with interviews with participants and regulators, reveal that staffing shortages and budget constraints have made it difficult for federal and state program officials to keep track of all of the property.
Requests for equipment are reviewed, but the process hasn’t stopped many overly aggressive departments from grabbing property that could be better used by other communities with a greater need.
For many, the opportunity to amass a vast array of gear with few strings attached has proven to be too tempting to pass up.
Morven Police Chief Lynwood Yates, for example, has acquired a decontamination machine originally worth $200,000 for his community of about 700 residents, and two additional full-time officers. The high-tech gadget is missing most of its parts and would need $100,000 of repairs.