Team 12 Investigates: CT police departments acquire millions worth of military hardware
Gov. Ned Lamont ordered state police to stop acquiring surplus U.S. military gear Monday.
Connecticut police departments have received $23 million worth of tactical gear directly from the Pentagon. A Team 12 Investigation discovered some of the state’s safest towns have acquired the most military hardware.
One of those communities is Watertown, which averaged 21 violent crimes a year since 2015, according to the FBI.
Watertown police have received $895,000 worth of Pentagon gear under the 1033 Program, including four dozen rifles and a mine-resistant vehicle.
"I can say, since my arrival, it hasn't left the lot," says acting Chief Joshua Bernegger of the Watertown Police Department.
He says they haven't used the tactical vehicle in years, but officers use the military rifles regularly.
Madison, a town that saw zero violent crimes in 2018, has acquired almost $1.7 million worth of military gear. Ridgefield, with just one major crime, received $64,000 worth.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal says the program should stay but without heavy armored equipment. He wants to scale back the 1033 Program as part of the upcoming defense spending bill.
"There's a balance there to be struck there," says Rep. Jim Himes. "There are rare instances; hostage rescues, natural disasters; where that use of equipment that we traditionally associate with the military may be warranted."
Police say military gear makes the job safer for everyone.
"You have an active shooter situation. Again, the longer the rifle, the longer the barrel, the more accurate it is, so we can take a post a little farther away," says Jeffrey McKirryher, an officer with the Watertown Police Department.
A study in 2017 found that "more military equipment increases... the expected number of civilians killed by police."
John DeCarlo, who led the Branford Police Department and now teaches at the University of New Haven, says most of the gear is not needed.
"Soldiers have enemies, and police have communities," he says. "And we should never confuse the two."
Watertown police say the Pentagon program has saved taxpayers money and kept officers safe.
Monday’s executive order from Gov. Lamont only applies to Connecticut State Police, but a spokesman said they hope local departments will follow.
For more information on how much military hardware your local police department has received, click HERE.