Which local police departments were on the Pentagon’s gift list?

When the Pentagon no longer needs war gear, local police are happy to take it second hand, collecting surplus armored vehicles, assault rifles, body armor, and other items to fight local crime.

In Pennsylvania, departments have received at least $11.5 million in free military gear under a surplus program created in 1990.

Media first looked at some of the equipment back in August, after images of heavily armed (and armored) police in photos from Ferguson, Mo., stoked concern that police were acting too much like military units.

Many Pennsylvania law-enforcement agencies have the same types of equipment, though information was previously only available on the county level for the $5 billion in military surplus given out nationwide.

But last month, the Pentagon decided to release raw data on all the equipment it tracks (not necessarily everything it has given out), and we now know which departments have which weaponry, vehicles and other equipment.

To simplify the search through more than 20 years of equipment gifts, The Marshall Project created an app that breaks down the list by state and by department. Select Pennsylvania to see the worth and type of equipment for every participating department.

Interestingly, the biggest local recipients actually aren’t the state’s biggest cities.

The winner there, in terms of the value of the equipment, is the Ohio Township Police Department in Allegheny County, according to the data. The Pentagon handed them just over $1 million in equipment.

Their big-ticket item is a mine resistant vehicle, valued at $733,000.

At the federal level, $1.9 million worth of equipment went to the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement National Armory Ops in Pennsylvania. Nationwide, various departments of the federal government are the program’s biggest recipients.

Philadelphia received $105,650 worth of equipment, including one armored truck valued at $65,070, along with 255 assault rifles and 1,000 magazines.

Pittsburgh received just $5,094 in equipment (six infrared aiming lights, back in 1996).

Top beneficiaries that received at least $700,000 worth of equipment include the Fayette County District Attorney’s Office Drug Task Force, the New Britain Township Police Department, Center Township Police Department, Chester Police Department, Chester Township Police Department and the Pottstown Police Department.

They all have one item in common (hint: it’s a mine-resistant vehicle). Search through the data to learn more and see what the military has given your local departments. All the equipment is free, with the exception of transportation costs.

It’s important to note that this data does not show all the military-style weaponry, vehicles and armor a police department has because it didn’t all come from the surplus inventory.

The data only deals with surplus equipment obtained through what’s known as the 1033 program. Departments frequently purchase new equipment using grants from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security.

Also, some of the equipment is considered non-tactical and isn’t particularly martial in nature – except for the fact that the military had it first. For instance, the $250 guitar given to the Chester Police Department is decidedly less intimidating than their armored vehicle.

Nationwide, departments received non-tactical items like French horns, saxophones, softballs, dumbbells and treadmills, according to The Marshall Project.

Congress originally created the surplus program in 1990 to give police surplus weapons and equipment for drug enforcement. In 1997, Congress authorized law enforcement to request equipment for other law-enforcement purposes. After Sept. 11, 2001, much of the focus shifted to anti-terrorism.

Now departments across the country, sometimes in far-flung rural jurisdictions, are outfitted like troops on battlefields abroad. After scrutiny and numerous requests to disclose which departments had war gear, the Pentagon decided to make that less of a secret.

Reach Jeffrey Benzing at 412-315-0265 or at jbenzing@publicsource.org. Follow him on Twitter @jabenzing.