SALEM — Oregon law enforcement officers have gotten $10.7 million worth of military gear from the federal government in a program that’s gained prominence as a result of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.
The program donates or lends armored vehicles, rifles, body armor and other equipment to local authorities, The Bulletin newspaper of Bend reported, citing documents from the Oregon coordinator of the program, Steve Smith.
The weapons are no longer needed for wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other international conflicts that increasingly rely on automated warfare.
The Deschutes County sheriff’s department has gotten an armored truck, four grenade launchers, night vision scopes, rifles and magazine cartridges, and body armor, said Capt. Erik Utter.
Much of the gear, valued at nearly $385,000, is used for a tactical unit formed five years ago, he said.
“We know for a fact that the weapons we carry in our vehicles, that citizens in the community have access to those same kinds of weapons,” Utter said, adding that the military equipment allows police to respond to whatever threat they might encounter.
The grenade launchers, he said, are used for smoke and tear gas, not live grenades.
The newspaper said a review of the distributions shows the Lane County sheriff’s office has gotten, or gotten approval for, more free equipment than any other agency in the state — $2.2 million worth.
Sgt. Carrie Carver, a spokeswoman in Lane County, said there are regular situations in which the department uses its five Humvees, but most of the equipment isn’t used on a daily basis.
She said the department sold another vehicle it got through the program.
The Klamath County Sheriff’s Office has received more than $1 million in free equipment, the second-most in the state.
Several departments in Oregon obtained armored vehicles they say are used by tactical units or SWAT teams.
Sheriff Mitch Southwick of Baker County says his agency has hardly used its new, $658,000 mine-resistant vehicle.
“I think we have only taken it out twice,” he said in an email.
Bend Police Chief Jim Porter said his agency got 15 rifles and demilitarized the weapons by changing them from fully automatic to semi-automatic.
“It is our philosophy that we do not militarize police officers in routine patrol situations,” he said.
Porter said Oregon’s agencies are getting equipment appropriate to their geographical needs.