by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
For decades, local police departments across the state of Michigan have utilized the federal government’s military surplus program, known as the 1033 program, to acquire excess defense equipment free of charge. The passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997 authorized local law enforcement agencies to request military equipment from the U.S. Department of Defense for “bona-fide law enforcement” purposes.
Eligible items include office furniture, household goods, exercise equipment, portable electric generators, tents, vehicles, aircraft, weapons and ammo, general law enforcement supplies and heavy equipment such as cranes, bulldozers and skid steers. While local law enforcement agencies can request any of these items, transfers of equipment are granted only if requests are justified at the state and federal levels.
Items obtained through the 1033 program are considered “controlled property” for one year. After one year, items “not considered to be uniquely military” become the property of the local law enforcement agency. At that point, the law enforcement agency is free to store their acquired items wherever they desire and sell or trade the items at their discretion.
Like the thousands of police departments across the country, the Shiawassee County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) has taken advantage of the 1033 program. And while the 1033 program and its predecessor, the 1208 program, have been abused in some cases, the SCSO has utilized the program to become better equipped for emergency situations and provide extra services, while also “getting a little of our tax money back from the federal government,” according to Undersheriff Robert Brancheau.
“Hundreds of departments in Michigan take advantage of the 1033 program, including many of our local departments,” explained Sheriff Brian BeGole. “Because of this program, we are more prepared for an emergency than we ever have been, and by selling equipment we don’t need, we have been able to fund services the county would otherwise not be able to afford.”
Since 1033 equipment transfer records were made public in 2014, the SCSO has obtained hundreds of excess items from the Department of Defense, including rifles with optic sights, an International MXT tactical vehicle, a mobile CAD dispatch center, ATVs, generators, tractors, gardening implements, vehicles, fencing and heavy equipment, such as a heavy-duty telescopic forklift (shown).
Many of the items acquired by the SCSO have been put to good use, such as the M4 rifles and laser sights; tactical backpacks (go-bags); generators; a Skytrak, which has been used to install salt buckets on Road Commission trucks; a Coyote garden tractor, which is used frequently in the inmate garden; and a van, which the jail’s kitchen staff uses daily to transfer meals to inmates at the county’s work release center. Sheriff BeGole also makes the equipment available to any departments in the county.
Other items have been sold – after the one-year waiting period – at or above market value to fund all the equipment maintenance of vehicles and equipment acquired through the 1033 program, and it has also been used for department purchases and facility improvements. For example, the SCSO was recently able to use $6,000 from its 1033 fund as a down payment on a new Animal Control vehicle, and funds have also been used to equip patrol vehicles with lights, cages and radar units.
“Not only is this program not costing us money, it is actually allowing the Sheriff’s Office to provide services we would not otherwise have,” shared Commissioner Jeremy Root. “Other departments want to talk about the Sheriff’s Office getting preferential treatment, but in reality, they have found creative ways like this to generate additional funds that have been used to improve the safety of Shiawassee County residents.”
Some have argued over the years that there is no need for local law enforcement agencies to possess military-grade vehicles and weaponry. And it is true that the SCSO has obtained items that may appear “unnecessary” or “too militaristic” for some outside law enforcement. One such item, an MXT (Military/Most eXtreme Truck) tactical vehicle nicknamed “Big Brown” by the SCSO, was dispatched to the swamp fire in Burns Township on July 11, 2018. Another such item, a skid steer, was recently used to assist in the demolition of the Shiatown Dam.
“We carry guns on our hips every day. We hope to never have to use them, but we sure want to have them if we ever do. The same can be said about ‘Big Brown.’ We hope to never have to use it, but in the event of a large brush fire or if, God help us, we get hit by another tornado, we will be happy to have it,” Undersheriff Brancheau poetically explained.
The SCSO has sold a number of items acquired through the 1033 program after one year. Some items have been sold to local businesses after determining market value and demand. Most items, however, and especially big-ticket items, have been sold through Sheridan Realty & Auction Co., an independent, third-party company which lists its auction items internationally.