Where did police get the military weapons and vehicles used to confront residents who took to the streets following the August 9 shooting death by police of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown?
Reports suggested that the Ferguson Police Department secured tactical equipment from the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), which runs a program called 1033 that has provided law enforcement agencies around the country with more than $5 billion worth of surplus military gear since the program's inception two decades ago.
But VICE News obtained the complete inventory of military leftovers secured since 2007 by the Ferguson Police Department under the DLA's 1033 program - and nothing on the list matched up with the militarized equipment police deployed during the protests.
What Ferguson did receive from the DLA were non-tactical items like laptop computers, utility trucks, a generator, and mittens for "extreme cold weather."
'While we provide law enforcement agencies boots, we don't teach people how to put boots on or take them off. The same is true for all other types of equipment we provide.'
"You'll see from this list that all of the items are considered non-tactical," said Mike O'Connell, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Public Safety, which oversees local law enforcement's participation in the 1033 program. "I believe (I'm not certain) that many of the items originally questioned [in news reports] were tactical items. Those tactical items were not received from the 1033 program."
O'Connell said Ferguson and other local law enforcement agencies in the state of Missouri have to apply to the Missouri Department of Public Safety to be accepted into the 1033 program. The most recent Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Missouri Department of Public Safety and the Ferguson Police Department related to the management of the 1033 program was dated April 16.
VICE News obtained a copy of the eight-page document signed by Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson (pdf below). It says any property obtained from the Defense Department through the program should largely be used for "counterdrug/counterterrorism activities."
The "Inventory Check" on the last page of the document does not appear to be completed.
Even though Ferguson police did not obtain any weapons under 1033, the program - its maxim is "From Warfighter to Crimefighter" - does supply US law enforcement agencies with M-14s, M-16s, M1911 .45 caliber pistols, grenade launchers (see DLA's weapons inventory PowerPoint below) and armored vehicles. The 1033 program is now under new scrutiny since disturbing images surfaced of protesters clashing with heavily armed police officers dressed in camouflage and wearing body armor.
The display again sparked national debates about the relationship between law enforcement and African American communities, and about the militarization of US police forces. It also troubled Senator Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat who chairs the Subcommittee on Financial & Contracting Oversight. She said she is planning to hold a hearing in September to examine the militarization of local police departments and the federal programs that arm the agencies, "such as the Defense Department's 1033 program for surplus property and grants made through the Department of Homeland Security."
Last weekend, President Barack Obama ordered his administration to review 1033 and other federal programs that arm local and state law enforcement agencies with military equipment to determine whether the initiatives are appropriate. A White House official told VICE News the review would also determine whether local law enforcement receives proper training to use the weaponry.
Ken MacNevin, the public affairs chief for DLA Disposition Services, which administers the 1033 program, explained to us that DLA does not provide any training to local and state law enforcement agencies on how to use the military gear it provides them. DLA only trains law enforcement on "administration, property control, and program management."
"While we provide law enforcement agencies boots, we don't teach people how to put boots on or take them off. We don't train them on the appropriate use of boots or the law enforcement aspects of boot use," MacNevin said. "The same is true for all other types of equipment we provide."
The obvious question: Where did Ferguson police get the military equipment it allegedly used during the protests, and how did the department purchase it? When VICE News posed the question to the Ferguson Police Department, an officer hung up the phone on us. Three subsequent calls back resulted in the same response.
O'Connell at the Missouri Department of Public Safety said it's likely other police departments present during the protests used military gear on display. He noted St. Louis Metropolitan Police and highway patrol were the "largest participants in the unified command assisting Ferguson."
The Ferguson Police Department has purchased equipment through a Department of Homeland Security grant program. But apparently it wasn't military equipment.
"The only equipment or funds [the Missouri Department of Public Safety] has provided for Ferguson Police Department out of Homeland Security funding is one live scan fingerprinting device and connectivity, totaling $33,350," O'Connell said. He added that Ferguson police also secured late last year three car cameras and two body cameras through a Justice Assistance Grant program operated by the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance.
But these are not the only ways Ferguson could acquire tactical equipment. Said O'Connell:
"We would not have any information on equipment that Ferguson acquires from outside DPS administered programs."
Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold
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UPDATE — August 27, 2014: On Wednesday, VICE News obtained the complete inventory of the military surplus gear the St. Louis County Police Department secured under the Pentagon's 1033 program. The St. Louis County Police were present during the protests in Ferguson, and news reports have speculated that the militarized gear deployed during the protests may have been from that agency. However, as the inventory spreadsheet shows, the department's last procurement under 1033 was in October 2008. Back then, St. Louis County Police secured helicopters, lights, a truck, and laptop computers. Additionally, VICE News obtained the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between St. Louis County Police and the Missouri Department of Public Safety. It was signed in May 2013 and states that the department does not have any weapons or tactical vehicles from the 1033 program.
The fact that the St. Louis County Police Department did not obtain tactical gear under 1033 is not to suggest that it doesn't have it. The department may have purchased military vehicles and weapons on its own or with grant money it secured from another federal program.