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Amid Calls To Change Policing, Two Kansas City Area Sheriffs Want To Get Rid Of Armored Vehicles They Got From The Pentagon

062320_Cass County MRAP_Lowe.JPG
Peggy Lowe
/
KCUR 89.3
A Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP, purchased by the Cass County Sheriff's Department in 2014. Local law enforcement agencies in Kansas and Missouri have received millions of dollars worth of such military-grade hardware from the federal government in recent years.

Missouri and Kansas police departments have received millions of dollars in military-grade hardware over the years, but that practice is under scrutiny amid ongoing protests.

Since the early 1990s, law enforcement agencies in Missouri and Kansas have received more than $35 million in used and surplus military equipment from the Pentagon.

Now, as calls increase around the nation to defund and demilitarize police departments, some local agencies are taking stock of hundreds of rifles, pistols, night vision goggles, and armored vehicles in their possession courtesy of something known as the 1033 Program.

Perhaps the most controversial piece of equipment is the MRAP, which is a military acronym for Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected. It's an armored vehicle designed to defeat roadside bombs.

Three metro sheriff's offices have the $733,000 MRAPs: Jackson, Clay and Cass, according to data from the Defense Logistics Agency.

While they may have been attractive when they were acquired in 2014, two of those sheriff's offices are now looking to get rid of them.

“A year ago, I directed staff to begin disposing of all unnecessary surplus military vehicles that’s in our inventory,” Jackson County Sheriff Darryl Forte told KCUR.

Meanwhile, Cass County Sheriff Jeff Weber estimated his office uses its MRAP once a year and typically only if in a situation where a suspect is armed. But he says the vehicle takes a lot of money to maintain and uses a lot of gas.

"We've been trying to get a smaller one," he said.

Six law enforcement agencies in Missouri have gotten MRAPs. There are none in Kansas, although many departments there have smaller armored vehicles.

And while MRAPs may be the most visible piece of Pentagon equipment local police can deploy, the most popular item picked up in the 1033 program is firearms.

In Kansas, Prairie Village over the years has added a dozen M16 rifles that are used by the department's Critical Incident Response Team, saving the city a lot of money.

“In today’s cost, we would save approximately $1,000 per rifle,” according to Prairie Village Police Chief Tim Schwartzkopf.

In eastern Jackson County, Blue Springs Police over the years have received almost 50 rifles that were used by patrol officers until recently. Those military rifles are being "phased out," according to Police Chief Bob Muenz.

They are "in the process of being returned to the program for other agencies to apply for or use." Muenz says the city is spending about $30,000 replacing the rifles that were acquired in 2011.

The Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department—the area's biggest—has never participated in the 1033 program.

“Our needs are supported within our budget as provided by the city,” KCPD spokesman Sgt. Jake Becchina told KCUR.

Some departments admit they only use some of the firearms received through the Pentagon for show.

The Cass County sheriff got 15 .45-caliber pistols through the 1033 program. The military stopped using that pistol for the most part in 1985, replacing it with the Italian made 9mm Beretta. Most American police departments use either a Glock, Smith & Wesson or Sig Sauer service pistol.

"We got them for our honor guard," Sheriff Weber said.

That is the same for the 15 M1 rifles the Pentagon shipped to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. (The M1 was used by U.S. soldiers in World War II.)

”Our Director of Law Enforcement confirmed these rifles are not fired, nor does the Law Enforcement Division possess the ammunition required to fire them,” said Department spokesperson Nadia Reimer.

The 1033 program had always had a bit of controversy around it, but renewed scrutiny to local police agencies' use of military-grade hardware was renewed following the civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, sparked by the killing of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown.

Ferguson Police responded to demonstrations and rioting with full body armor, military weapons and armored vehicles. The Obama administration subsequently shut the program down.

However, the Trump administration revived it in 2017.

Since that time, very few Kansas departments have received anything from the Pentagon. Four smaller sheriff offices have gotten a total of $221,000 of material.

But Missouri continues to cash in. Some $7.5 million in material has been transferred to departments around the state since 2017, according to Defense Department data.

Now, there are renewed calls to once again shut down the 1033 program.

“It is clear that many police departments are being outfitted as if they are going to war, and it is not working in terms of maintaining the peace,” Hawaii Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz told the New York Times this month.

He said he will offer an amendment to the annual defense policy bill to end the 1033 program.

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