War on Crime

(WSVN) - Some local police departments roll out military equipment to fight the war on crime, and you would think these weapons are needed for the battle. But one department wants to get rid of its military guns and vehicles, saying the cost of keeping them is blowing up their budget. 7’s Joe Roetz has more.

Orlando Lopez, Mayor of Sweetwater: “It really is close to a death trap inside…”

The “death trap” is this tank.

Orlando Lopez: “It has no a/c. The fumes come in.”

The Sweetwater Police Department got it through a federal government program that gives unwanted military items to police agencies.

Placido Diaz, Sweetwater Police Chief: “I believe in the program. It’s just a matter of how you use it. The mindset at the time was SWAT-oriented, more militaristic type of an administration. That was the thought back then.”

Sweetwater first started receiving military equipment from the government in 1998.

Orlando Lopez: “The city got was 25 automatic rifles, two helicopters, two armored personnel vehicles.”

But all that hardware is costing the city big bucks.

Orlando Lopez: “I would say probably about $50,000 between insurance, storage and maintenance costs for items that we necessarily don’t want to keep.”

The mayor and police chief want to get rid of most it, but they’re having a hard time. Technically the equipment belongs to the federal government and can’t be destroyed or broken down for parts.

Items can be given to another police agency, but the transfer has to be approved by the Feds.

Placido Diaz: “It took us the better part of a year and a half to find a suitor for one of the helicopters. We still have one helicopter left.”

So far, no one seems to want a Vietnam-era two-seater helicopter, even though it’s in good shape.

Orlando Lopez: “It’s currently costing us about $18,000 to insure, and we don’t use it.”

That $18,000 doesn’t even include the costs for storage fees, maintenance and gas.

Placido Diaz: “You can go fully auto or you can go single shot.”

The department also can’t find anyone to take 24 M16 rifles, the tank or the hummer. After a year, the military is supposed to pick up unwanted items. But it has been more than a year and still no word when the Feds will pick them up.

Placido Diaz: “It’s a little frustrating, but I understand because the bureaucracy. It is what it is. And when working with different agencies, it’s tough, so I’m not putting any blame on anybody in particular. It’s just the process.”

The one item the city does want to keep is this military mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle.

It’s popular with police departments because of its search and rescue capabilities, especially in high water.

Orlando Lopez: “We just went through Hurricane Irma, and that was one of the first vehicles that was actually mobilized to be able to drive through streets that had about a foot of water.”

But while this vehicle gets high marks, the other military surplus items sit where they are … and take aim at the city’s budget.

Orlando Lopez: “It hurts, especially in a budget like this where it’s tight.”

Sweetwater says it’s money that could be used to hire more police officers who fight the war on crime.

To date, the LESO program has transferred more than $6 billion worth of military items to some 8,000 police agencies across the country.

Joe Roetz, 7News.

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