The Norman Transcript


August 1, 2013

Giveaways going wild



Navy Vice Adm. Mark Harnitchek, director of the Defense Logistics Agency, said state coordinators and the support office in his agency both perform a “sanity check” on requests.

“The intent here is that we’re not giving Barney Fife an attack helicopter,” he said. “If you want a helicopter, you’ve got to have significantly more justification for it than if you want a (personal computer) that’s 8 years old.”

But in Alabama, the Oxford Police Department received more than $10.4 million in equipment, including a $1.5 million piece of infrared surveillance apparatus for a helicopter it doesn’t have. Oxford’s police chief said the department had asked for night-vision goggles for its SWAT team but instead received the high-value item it could not use.

Many state program coordinators say they have the staff and funding to conduct only a handful of on-site inspections annually — if at all. That effectively leaves to the very departments that receive the equipment the job of certifying that the goods are being used properly and have not been lost, stolen, sold or given away.

Federal reviews of the state programs also have been spotty. The Defense Department is required to conduct program compliance reviews of each state program every two years, but many states have often gone much longer without one.

Mississippi’s program, coordinated by its Office of Surplus Property, once went six years without a review. And in March 2012, federal overseers scolded that office for accumulating more than $8 million in property because it isn’t a law enforcement organization, and therefore was ineligible.

Suspension of the firearms distribution is expected to be lifted in October. In the meantime, staffing at the federal office with direct supervision has increased 50 percent, to 18 employees. A new computer system has been installed to improve inventory tracking. And a spokeswoman said new rules limit distribution of most items to one per law enforcement officer, except for consumables like clothing and batteries.

Those rules weren’t in place when Rising Star’s police chief went on his online shopping spree.

“He spent most of his time on the computer looking for that stuff. He wasn’t really doing his job,” said June Stone, a former member of Rising Star’s city council.

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