NewsChannel 3 Investigates: Military surplus program providing local police with wartime weapons

Posted at 5:14 PM, Aug 19, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-19 17:14:50-04

If it looks like police in Ferguson are dressed for a front line firefight, that's because they are. Police there have taken advantage of a military surplus program that puts war weapons, combat clothing, and even tanks in the hands of police officers across the country.

And that very same program also has funneled hundreds of machine guns into Virginia with very little oversight.

"We've got people with tanks. And people with grenade launchers. I have been racking my brain to figure out how a law enforcement person in Bath County, or Rockingham or New Kent is going to use a grenade launcher," says Claire Gastanaga with the ACLU of Virginia.

The standoffs in Ferguson have put a national spotlight on a surplus program that just about every police agency in Hampton Roads has used. For years, local police departments have helped themselves at what amounts to a federal flea market. They order military gear designed for battle at no charge, even if they might not need it, or know how to use it.

"Just because it is free. That makes no sense to me," Gastanaga says.

NewsChannel 3 has obtained a database of more than a thousand military donations given to Hampton Roads law enforcement. Some of it seems silly, like the police department that wanted kayaks, or a golf cart. But other orders are deadly serious, weapons taken straight from the front lines.

"My top concern is the police think that they are at war with citizens,"  says Gastanaga.

On Wednesday at NewsChannel 3 at 5:00pm, we will show you what every department has received under this surplus program. That includes agencies that do very little policing, but have amassed an arsenal of military machine guns. And we'll tell you which departments are trying to get bomb-proof military trucks.