Three Southeast Arkansas counties are among the counties across the United States that have taken advantage of a Pentagon-to-police transfer program in which the local law enforcement agencies acquire guns, vehicles, grenade launchers, night vision or body armor for use in fighting crime.
Drew, Ashley and Lincoln counties are the only counties in Southeast Arkansas (south of Jefferson County) that have acquired the military equipment, according to a Pentagon database of transfers since 2006 which was recently acquired by the New York Times.
Drew County acquired six assault rifles, according to Pentagon data.
Two of those six were acquired by the Monticello Police Department and both are kept under a lock in a safe, said Monticello Police Chief Eddy Deaton.
“They have never been used or fired at anybody, ever,” Deaton said. “We got them in case we ever had an incident at a school or we have a bad guy wearing body armor where you need more precision or more power than what is offered by handguns and shotguns.”
Only two officers, Deaton and Assistant Chief Carlos Garcia, both of whom have military training, have access to the safe where the M-16s are stored.
Drew County Sheriff Mark Gober said the Drew County Sheriff’s Office acquired four M-16s before he took office. They have never been used and are kept in a secure area. Only Gober and Drew County Chief Deputy Sheriff Robin Hood have access to the guns.
The Ashley County Sheriff’s Office acquired an armored truck, an M-16 and two night vision pieces while a law enforcement agency in Lincoln County acquired an assault rifle and a pistol, according to Pentagon data.
Ashley County Sheriff David Johnson said the military gear was obtained for the Ashley County DART (Deployed Armed Response Team), which was created after the 1999 Columbine High School shootings. The DART team includes 14 special-trained individuals, including law enforcement officers and paramedics, according to Johnson.
“We needed to have folks properly trained with proper gear to take on tasks we might be confronted with, such as an incident with barricaded suspects with high-powered weapons or hostage situations,” Johnson said. “We wanted to be prepared in a situation like that and not have to wait on state police or other agencies to respond.”
Ashley County’s armored vehicle is actually a Dodge truck that was once used by the military police. “The military put metal around it and put in bullet proof glass,” Johnson explained.
The armored truck, he said, would allow the DART team to pull up to a scene where a person has a high-powered weapon. “Without the truck, we wouldn’t have a chance,” he said.
The M-16 Ashley County acquired through the program has never been used, according to Johnson.
“We have two guys trained to use it, but it has never been used,” he said. “It’s in safe-keeping in our armory. Only two people have a key.”
There is a move to prohibit law enforcement agencies from possessing military surplus gear, but Johnson said it is a good program that also provides non-destructive items to local law enforcement agencies.
“I’d like to get a military surplus sonar device for use in locating submerged bodies,” Johnson said. “We have two rivers in our county.”
The military also has dozers, dump trucks, lighting equipment, fire extinguishers and other items that would be useful to counties. “Why not let a county get a dozer or dump truck,” Johnson said.
“We don’t need grenade launchers or Apache helicopters or things like that, but we do need things like generators to power our command center, military vehicles for natural disasters and search and rescue, blankets, ice makers, plastic food trays and MREs (meals ready to eat),” Johnson said. “Why not let let local agencies have those non-destructive type items. If you know the shelf life is going to end, why waste it?”