The Ottawa Times, Ottawa, IL - Small Towns With Military Arms IL13

June 18, 2016 12:00 PM

Posted: Friday, June 18, 2016

David Giuliani, [email protected], 815-431-4041


The tiny village of Lostant is not known as a haven for crime, but its police department has armed itself with military-grade weapons.

From 2006 to 2015, the village, population 500, has received $120,000 worth of military surplus equipment, including five M16 rifles.

That's more than any other La Salle County police agency during this period, with the exception of the county's largest municipality, Ottawa, which acquired equipment with a total value exceeding $188,000.

This information comes from a recent report on the Open the Books website, which put together a database that tracks distribution of military equipment to departments across the country from 2006 to 2015.

Departments can obtain free military surplus equipment through the 1033 Program. They must meet a number of requirements, including giving the intended use for requested items. If a department no longer needs a piece of equipment, it must return the item to the military.

Some departments have received no equipment whatsoever during the 10-year period, including those in Peru, La Salle and Spring Valley. Not one department in Livingston County acquired military items, according to the records.

There is not necessarily a link between a town's population and the amount of equipment obtained. Lostant is proof of this, as are two Bureau County towns that far exceed Ottawa, population 18,000, in the value of equipment received, even though they are much smaller: Princeton, population 7,700, secured more than $370,000 in equipment, while DePue, population 1,800, received $250,000 worth.

DePue has four Humvees — one is equipped with a snowplow, another is used by police and the two remaining are available for parts, said Police Chief Mike West.

"We hardly use them except for emergencies," he said.

In 2014, the militarized police in Ferguson, Mo., drew public notice during protests against a police shooting. Many objected to police using military equipment.

In February, La Salle County Sheriff Tom Templeton announced his department received a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle from the military. The vehicle, worth $773,000, arrived after the 10-year period examined by Open the Books.

The sheriff said it could be a good law enforcement tool during emergency events such as tornadoes, floods, ice storms and blizzards, and "all it will cost was years of paperwork filling out applications."

From 2006 to 2015, the sheriff's office obtained $146,000 worth in military equipment, including three Humvees and four M14s. One of the Humvees since has been transferred to a suburban police department, while another will be returned to the military this summer, Templeton said.

"We found we were sufficient with what we have," the sheriff said.

'A lot of grandstanding'

Adam Andrzejewski, chief executive of Open the Books, noted many smaller departments got M16 and M14 rifles.

"Many of the (Department of Defense) weapons transfers have a questionable law enforcement purpose," Andrzejewski wrote in a column for the suburban Daily Herald. "The Illinois Department of Natural Resources received 174 M16 and M14 rifles. Why? To enforce hunting laws?"

In an email to The Times, he said residents have an obligation to review which departments receive which gear.

"For example, is there an appropriate public purpose for local police to procure M14 rifles? That's the Vietnam-era special operations Army rifle and a lot of firepower for the rural area," Andrzejewski said.

Streator Police Chief Kurt Pastirik said police departments need to prepare for the worst, citing the recent mass shooting in Orlando.

"This is equipment that has been paid for with taxpayers' dollars nationally," the chief said. "As far as I'm concerned, it's a good program. We take advantage of what is available. Is it better that it is put to use by a local department or sit in a warehouse?"

The Marseilles Police Department has obtained nearly $100,000 in military equipment over 10 years. The items include nine M16 and two M14 rifles and two Humvees.

Marseilles Police Chief Jim Hovious said it was a difficult process to obtain equipment, taking two to three years to get weapons.

Opponents of the federal program to distribute military items have done "a lot of grandstanding in the media," Hovious said.

"I go back to the flood of 2013. We were rescuing people's animals and got people out of floodwaters. The Humvees have been a great tool for us," he said. "You have to know what you are looking for, and you have to establish a relationship with the military bases near you."

'Very few things are free'

Peru Police Chief Doug Bernabei said he has not applied for military equipment either as chief in Peru or Spring Valley.

"A lot of that equipment is geared toward the military," Bernabei said. "I haven't identified a need in-house for that equipment."

In the "unlikely event" the department needs a Humvee, the chief said, it can call for help with the state's mutual aid system.

"Everyone doesn't need a Humvee. Everyone doesn't need extra military surplus rifles. Very few things are free. There are residual costs and training on the equipment," Bernabei said. "I'm not questioning others' decisions. We just don't see a need here."

By the numbers

Here's the value of military equipment obtained by law enforcement agencies in La Salle and Bureau counties from 2006 to 2015 (in alphabetical order):

DePue $250,181

Grand Ridge $64,606

La Salle $3,493

La Salle County Sheriff $146,471

Leland $108

Lostant $120,396

Marseilles $98,617

Mendota $276

Oglesby $4,664

Ottawa $188,309

Princeton $373,015

Seneca $0

Sheridan $138

Somonauk $4,803

Spring Valley $0

Streator $59,517

Utica $0

Source: Open the Books



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