St. Louis County police got guns, helicopters from federal government for free

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For five straight days, confrontations between protesters and police over the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown took place on the streets of Ferguson, Mo.

The situation has drawn attention to what observers call the “militarization of the police.” SWAT units armed with machine guns and sniper rifles were deployed. Armored vehicles and officers in army fatigues patrolled the area. At least two reporterswere aggressively detained while covering the protests.

The Ferguson Police Department’s actions drew widespread criticism. Earlier this week, the small department of only 53 officers handed over most of the policing to the St. Louis County Police Department. On Thursday, Gov. Jay Nixon ordered the state Highway Patrol to take over security operations in Ferguson. According to data from the Pentagon, the St. Louis County Police Department received the following materiel directly from the military between 2008 and 2013:

The St. Louis County numbers are actually low considering the county’s high population (about a million residents) and reputation as a particularly violent and crime ridden area. For comparison, Cole County, a municipality with a population of about 76,000 west of St. Louis, received 284 rifles, four helicopters and an armored truck from the same program.

The little-known Department of Defense Excess Property Program–often referred to as the 1033 Program–has transferred more than $4.3 billion worth of property to municipal law enforcement departments dating back to 1990.

Nearly $450 million worth of property was transferred in 2013.

It’s not known if St. Louis County Police Department works in conjunction with the other 1033 Program participants. Calls to the department were not immediately returned.

Police departments that participate in the 1033 Program lease the property. All of the equipment is deemed as “excess” by the military, a designation that has grown to include ever more equipment in recent years as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have winded down.

Also worth noting: Missouri’s state Highway Patrol has not received any materials from the Pentagon program.