‘Take back our tanks’: Police can’t get rid of military gear in Ferguson aftermath


Reuters / Gus Ruelas

Police departments that have been slammed for increased militarization through the Defense Department’s surplus equipment program now have a new dilemma. Some of them have discovered they cannot give their unused war supplies back to the Pentagon.

Reuters / Gus Ruelas
Reuters / Gus Ruelas

The DoD’s Excess Property Program ‒ also known as the 1033 Program ‒ furnishes police departments around the country with excess weapons, vehicles, and office supplies at no cost to the jurisdiction. But what has been criticized as the increasing militarization of police became a hot topic over the summer after riots broke out in Ferguson, Missouri and law enforcement responded with what many saw as excessive force and unnecessary weaponry.

“We really want to get rid of these,” Undersheriff John Wisemore told Mother Jones. “We’ve been trying to get the military to take them back since 2004.”

The 1033 Program has become the subject of numerous reports and studies, as well as congressional inquiries. Several cities, including Davis, California, have told their police departments to get rid of military inventory, including mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles.

Police officers keep watch while demonstrators (not pictured) protest the death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri August 12, 2014 (Reuters / Mario Anzuoni)
Police officers keep watch while demonstrators (not pictured) protest the death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri August 12, 2014 (Reuters / Mario Anzuoni)

However, some jurisdictions have found that getting rid of their military surplus is easier said than done.



An officer with the Chelan County Sheriff’s Department in central Washington says he would love for someone to take three amphibious tanks off his hands.

Agencies like Wisemore’s are finding they can’t return or trade large pieces of tactical equipment without Defense Department approval – and since the Pentagon technically still owns that equipment, they can’t sell it, according to Mother Jones.

Meanwhile, nearly 200 state and local police departments in the United States have been suspended for losing equipment loaned to them under the 1033 program.

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