Military surplus helps state's cops

Published January 27, 2007

PENSACOLA - Prisoner transport airplanes, helicopter parts and armored personnel carriers are used every day by Florida law enforcement after the U.S. military deems they aren't valuable anymore.

In fiscal 2005, 48 Florida law enforcement agencies received more than $3.1-million in military surplus items including boats, dive platforms, rescue vehicles and Vietnam-era helicopters.

Local agencies say the money they spend on this equipment saves them tens of millions of dollars a year, compared to prices on the private market.

"It's a wonderful program for midsized police agencies like ours," said Jack Gillen of the Lakeland Police Department. Gillen's agency recently spent $1,500 on an armored personnel carrier, something the department couldn't have afforded without the program.

"We invested about $1,000 in paint and decals. It would have cost $300,000 for a new one. It will provide extreme cover for our officers if they need to ram a building or whatever they need to do," he said.

Among the most creative uses of surplus items are agencies that use culvert pipes as housing for drug dogs, said Tiffany Koenigkramer, a spokeswoman for Florida's Department of Management Services, which oversees surplus distribution. Boats are always in big demand, as are helicopters and helicopter parts, Koenigkramer said.

The items cost local agencies no more than 10 percent of their original cost, or $2,000, whichever amount is smaller.

The federal government regularly updates its list of available military surplus items. Koenigkramer's office is charged with reviewing requests from Florida agencies and helping federal officials determine how the items are distributed based on need and past use of surplus items.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office uses several Vietnam-era military surplus helicopters as part of its helicopter fleet.

"They are not the prettiest out there but they do the job and they do it well," aviation maintenance manager Bob Rogers said of the department's three surplus helicopters, built between 1969 and 1971. New helicopters cost the department more than $700,000, he said.

But many surplus items have become less available due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Kevin Vislocky of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.