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So while the Pentagon says Charlottesville, Virginia, got 134 M16 rifles, police there say they’ve only received 26 rifles.

“We have fourteen (14) M16s that we received in 2006. Those rifles all came in full-automatic mode, which is how they were built for the military. We converted them all to semi-automatic, and they are deployed with officers as patrol rifles. We also have twelve (12) M14 rifles which had already been converted to semi-automatic by the military prior to us obtaining them,” Capt. Gary Pleasants, Support Services Division commander of the Charlottesville Police Department, said in an email.

Defense officials say the others may have gone to state police or federal agencies operating out of Charlottesville, and say that while they know who got the weapons, they cannot reveal it to the public because the transfers are deemed to be “law enforcement-sensitive.”

The government data also says an antitank missile system was sent to somewhere in Tom Green County in Texas, but the sheriff there said he’s never heard anything about it.

“I have been around here since 1988, and I am not aware of any tracked vehicles at the [sheriff’s office] or [police department]. I have only been with the sheriff’s department for three years, but I was with the state police stationed here in Tom Green County beginning in 1988. To my knowledge there is nothing like that here,” Sheriff Jones said.

Good government watchdogs say the data leaves the public in the dark about the most important information in the debate.

“Thus far, the DOD response has been absurd,” said Tim Lynch, director of the libertarian Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice, which monitors civil liberties and law enforcement issues, including police tactics and misconduct.

“This is not about tracking blankets or flashlights. This is about military weaponry like M16s, grenade launchers and armored vehicles,” said Mr. Lynch. “There must be a full public accounting for those things.”

Joe Newman, spokesman for the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, said that he couldn’t see a “compelling national security interest” for the Pentagon to keep the data secret.

“It’s disturbing that the DOD would not be more transparent where this military equipment is going,” he said. “Obviously, the information that the media and public wants to know — where this equipment is ending up — is something the DOD knows. I think the DOD needs to explain why this information can’t be released.”

“On its face, there doesn’t seem to be a compelling national security interest at play here,” he said.

White House review

The 1033 Program had its root in a 1990 law that created a pilot program to have the Defense Department ship equipment to agencies that could use it to combat drug crimes. A 1997 law made the program permanent and expanded its purpose to include equipment that could be used to combat terrorism.

The program grew along with another phenomenon: the spread of Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT teams. They first appeared in the 1960s, but by the late 1990s nearly 90 percent of police departments had the teams, which were tasked with serving high-risk warrants, apprehending dangerous fugitives and responding to barricade situations.

Equipment in the 1033 Program is sent with the understanding it is on loan from the Defense Department, and all costs for maintenance and operation are to be borne by the local agencies. More than $5.1 billion worth of equipment has been sent to law enforcement agencies.

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