Since 1995, the Defense Logistics Agency’s Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) has been responsible for transferring excess Department of Defense equipment suitable for counterdrug and anti-terrorism activities to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
Through the authority of the National Defense authorization Act’s 1033 program, LESO has transferred hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment and more than 8 million items to police agencies across the country.
To many, this seems like overkill— especially in small towns across America that have never lost a single officer in the line of duty. Officials there wonder why their departments need this type of military equipment. It seems as though our police unnecessarily have been armed with weapons of war by the federal programs that give the equipment away at no cost because the government no longer needs it.
But this is a good thing.
Let me give you a few examples of how this program has made our communities safer and what the impact has been.
International drug cartels and drug traffickers have unlimited funds at their disposal to transport and smuggle illegal drugs throughout our country. There was a major drug trafficking ring along Lake Michigan and on one occasion a drug trafficker lined his boat with a metal ramming device and sank a police boat. After this incident, Indiana acquired a 41-foot Coast Guard cutter through the 1033 program. The use of the cutter has enabled police to catch the criminals who sank the police boat and also helped to reduce drug trafficking from Lake Michigan to Indiana.
The notorious international gang MS-13, which started in Los Angeles in the late 1980s, poses a serious ongoing threat to our communities. MS-13 members engage in a wide range of crimes,including drug distribution, murder, rape, robbery, home invasions, kidnapping, carjackings and auto thefts. They often target middle- and high-school students for recruitment. Although original MS-13 members came from El Salvador, they now have more than 10,000 members and operate in 42 states.
Gangs of this type have the ability to destroy our neighborhoods through intimidation and violence. They have automatic weapons that can be purchased on the streets and modified to meet their needs. These weapons can penetrate normal police patrol cars with ease. Many police departments have added ballistic materials in their patrol car doors to prevent the rounds from compromising their vehicles. Armored vehicles from the military provide the necessary safety for our officers to take down gang houses and to arrest these street terrorists and restore neighborhoods to normalcy.
Our police leaders and neighborhood officers want to keep a balance between working with the community every way conceivable to prevent crime and safely apprehending violent offenders. Using resources from the 1003 program has proven to be very effective at helping our police operate safely and securely and while accomplishing their mission of bringing perpetrators to justice.
Walters retired as Santa Ana Police Chief last year. He now works as Executive Vice President of Evidence Based Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 949-216-6814