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“We were in need of some higher-grade weapons as far as rifles were concerned, and the military was able to provide us with some extra rifles they had,” Undersheriff Wisemore said.

Now his deputies all have rifles in their vehicles. The ones from the government were transferred with their automatic fire capability intact. The department could have converted them, but that would have cost money. Instead, they have a policy only to use them on semi-automatic, which means pulling the trigger once for each round fired.

“There’s a lot of firepower out there [in the hands of] the citizens, and we don’t want to be overpowered. We don’t use them for anything other than to just protect the citizens,” the undersheriff said. “It has been a great program. I think it’s great that the military, instead of destroying everything, offered it up to local law enforcement agencies. The comments that some are making that police are [becoming] too militarized — the public is becoming militarized in my opinion. There’s pretty high-grade weaponry out there available to the public.”

‘Tactical equipment’ and thermal underwear

The equipment the Defense Department makes available to local law enforcement ranges from thermal underwear and combat boots to gym weight benches to computers. Excess body bags, tissue paper and washcloths are also available.

But most of the questions about the program stem from what the Pentagon labels the “tactical” equipment — the guns and trucks that have led some observers to equate the police with an invading army rather than a public safety operation.

The Pentagon data shows the government has transferred nearly 80,000 rifles and 1,718 shotguns to counties throughout the country.

Los Angeles County alone has been the destination for 3,229 M16-A1 rifles and another 87 M14 rifles, while Leon County in Florida, which is home to Tallahassee, received 1,900 M16-A1 rifles and 111 M14 rifles.

Camouflage netting is a popular item, as are night vision scopes.

But the rifles and the heavily armored vehicles have gotten the most attention.

All told, the Pentagon has dispatched more than 170 personnel carriers to law enforcement agencies, including mortar carriers, command posts and the air antitank defense missile system carriers that were sent to Tucson.

Another of those antitank missile carriers was sent in 1998 to Tom Green County in Texas, where the San Angelo Police Department said it was wholly unsuitable for what they needed.

“It is exactly as it was when we received it in 1998. Apparently, the administration in 1998 believed that this could be used as an armored personnel carrier for our SWAT team. It has never been utilized, nor has it ever left our training facility,” said Officer Tracy Gonzalez. “It was used years ago in training scenarios, but that was the extent of the use. It is very apparent that the vehicle itself is not conducive for a SWAT approach, and the fact that it is a tracked vehicle further made it unusable in our urban area. The tracks would tear our streets up.”

Even the information the Pentagon released about the 1033 Program has sewn confusion.

The government broke the data into “general” equipment, such as gym barbells or power tools, and “tactical” equipment — the heavy vehicles and automatic rifles that have come under intense scrutiny. But the Pentagon withheld the names of the agencies that got the tactical equipment, instead only listing the county where the equipment was delivered.

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