Bayonets for the FBI in Oklahoma City. Helicopters for the Bryan County Sheriff’s Office. Riot shotguns and M-16 rifles for Putnam City Schools police.
Across Oklahoma, 149 entities, from police departments and sheriff’s offices to state agencies, tribes and campus police, applied for and received more than 1,500 items from the Department of Defense related to combat, surveillance, transport and other purposes, an analysis of federal data by Oklahoma Watch found. The acquisitions were made between 1998 and June 2015 under the Pentagon’s “1033” program, which shares military equipment with law enforcement and other civilian agencies.
Other acquisitions were more than 860 M-16 rifles, which can have fully automatic capability; seven armored commando trucks or cars, and 30 mine-resistant vehicles.
Military Equipment Secured, by Item or Agency
Critics have suggested military equipment such as machine guns and armored vehicles should not be in the hands of civilian authorities, that this militarizes local police. Brady Henderson, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union Oklahoma, sees a problem in the large numbers of items leased and the fact that Defense Department weapons are designed for warfighters.
“A soldier goes out, hunts and potentially destroys the enemy,” Henderson said. “The problem is, on the battlefield that’s one thing. But here, in Oklahoma, the enemy is here. The enemy is citizens, even if it’s citizens who’ve made some very bad choices.”
Law enforcement agencies defend the program, saying it has been a boon during tight budget times. It also helps protect officers who increasingly face offenders with high-powered arms and in situations that pose a threat to officers’ lives, officials say.
Putnam City School District spokesman Steve Lindley said the district’s police officers ordered several military weapons from the program, including some M-16 rifles capable of fully-automatic fire. He noted the approach of the anniversary of the Dec. 14, 2012, Sandy Hook school shooting in which six adult staff and 20 children died.
“You can choose an incident — Sandy Hook, Aurora, Fort Hood or Paris — and in all those situations you had people who were angry, had mental health issues or were terrorists,” Lindley said. “Our campus police department is tasked with keeping students and staff safe. To not be prepared for any of those situations would be not doing our duty.”
Oklahoma County Sheriff’s spokesman Mark Opgrande said their department purchased conversion kits for their M-16s, which change them from having fully automatic capability.
“They are all switched to semi-auto, which means they are equivalent to an (civilian version) AR-15,” Opgrande said. “Frankly, in law enforcement, you can’t afford to have anything but semi-automatic…you’d blow your budget shooting bullets all day long.”
Among the acquisitions by law enforcement:
The M-14 battle rifle uses the long-range, high-power 308 cartridge. Many can fire in semi-automatic or fully automatic mode, although it is said to be uncontrollable when fired as a machine gun. Its bullets have a lethal range of more than 800 yards. Records show that 60 were ordered by Oklahoma agencies, including some colleges and a public school district.
M1911A1 .45 Pistol
This century-old semi-automatic design first saw combat in World War I and was the main sidearm of the American military until its replacement by the 9mm Beretta in the 1980s. While a respected pistol, it has tricky safety features when compared to modern pistols, like Glock or Smith and Wesson. More than 200 were issued to police and other agencies in Oklahoma, from Ada to Yukon.
The M-16 was created in the 1960s to replace the M-14. It fires the .223 cartridge that has a lethal range of about 400 yards. While it was originally designed to be fired in semi-automatic or fully automatic mode, more recent versions also have a three-round “burst” setting. Records show 861 are in the hands of sheriff’s offices, police departments, state agencies, colleges and other entities.
Commando Armored Car
This vehicle was developed in the 1960s, first used in Vietnam and then throughout the world by the U.S. and its allies. While the vehicles can carry light artillery, machine guns and missile launchers, the ones released to Oklahoma agencies are not weaponized. Four were issued to Oklahoma agencies, records show.
The Kiowa helicopter is still used in the U.S. Army for observation and fire support. Eleven non-weaponized ones were are issued to Oklahoma agencies, including two to Bryan County. The county also has helicopter trainer.
Called the MRAP, these armored vehicles were the most survivable so far deployed against roadside bombs in Afghanistan. Now, records show, 30 are issued to various agencies throughout the state.
The ubiquitous HMMWV “Humvee” is one of the most recognizable military vehicles in the world and the most common one ordered by Oklahoma agencies using the Pentagon program. Police, tribes, sheriffs and others have ordered 119 through the 1033 program. Unlike this one used by the Iraqi army, Oklahoma’s are non-weaponized.
A bayonet is a knife that can be attached to a military rifle. In past wars, desperate combatants would sometimes fight until ammunition was exhausted, then attach their bayonets and charge the enemy and stab them. Considered by many to be a relic of times past, records show five were ordered by the FBI’s Oklahoma City office under the 1033 program.