Humvees, armored trucks and generators are all military hand-me-downs you might expect local law enforcement to make good use of, but what about bayonet knives made to attach to the end of guns? What about band instruments?
A Community Watchdog review of every military surplus item collected in Tennessee and Virginia uncovered some interesting finds. Agencies we spoke with told us every one of the items they have received from the military surplus program serves a purpose.
The agencies that participate in the program pay a small yearly fee and in return get to request items that the military no longer needs for their own use. Agencies are audited yearly to make sure the department is following the rules and to make sure all of these items are accounted for.
Records from the Tennessee Department of General Services and Virginia State Police reveal law enforcement agencies have received at least $18 million worth of military surplus items over the years.
Those public records revealed the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office collected the most weapons with 67 guns in all, the Scott County, Virginia, Sheriff’s Office received the most military rifles with 31 and three departments (HCSO, Bristol, Tennessee, Police Department and Washington County, Tennessee, Sheriff’s Office) each received mine resistant vehicles.
WCSO also received the single most valuable item when it went and picked up a communications truck the military originally valued at $5 million. Overall, at barely any expense to county taxpayers, according to public records, the agency has collected more than $9 million worth of military surplus items, which is more than any other agency in Tennessee.
“We’ve been given a really good opportunity to make the best of something and we’re trying,” WCSO Communications and Fleet Supervisor Allen Kyker said.
Some items, like the armored vehicle, officers have never used. Instead, it is there just in case there is a standoff situation. Others, like forklifts and lights, they have relied on during disasters. Kyker says the vast majority of items are just for practical day-to-day use.
“Most all of the equipment we’ve used,” he said.
But what about the 60 bayonet knives WCSO has in its possession? Public records reveal the sheriff’s office received the bayonets a year ago.
“I know it sounds bad, but it’s really not,” Kyker said.
He says he ordered the bayonet knives for the department’s SWAT Team; a group that he says wanted another set of knives members could use to dig holes or cut wires, so they wouldn’t have to damage their personal knives.
“All it is is a knife,” Kyker said. “A hunting knife is basically what it amounts to.”
There are only about 20 officers on the SWAT Team, so why does the department need 60 bayonets? Kyker says he ordered more than he needed to make sure he got enough good ones.
“I put in for that many to try and get enough,” he said. “20 good ones for the SWAT Team. Some of them are damaged. They are older.”
Kyker says the remaining 40 are locked away.
Over in Unicoi County, high school students are unlocking a different kind of military stockpile. Thanks to the surplus program, Unicoi County High School band students are getting to use old Marine and Army band instruments to help build their program.
“Some of these instruments we would never be able to buy, never be able to afford and some of them we would have to save for years to be able to buy,” UCHS Band Director Evangeline Hurter said.
Public records reveal the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Office recently surprised the high school with 28 high quality instruments valued at more than $45,000.
“When they started carrying these sousaphones in and a new (baritone) sax and a new bass clarinet in, I was in shock,” Hurter said. “We feel really blessed, because we could never afford to get these.”.
Sheriff Mike Hensley says with the state’s blessing, the department was able to loan the instruments to the band. Right now the band only has 23 members, but it is expected to more than double in the next four years.
“In about four years we’ll have close to 60 kids,” Hurter said. “We have at least five kids playing tuba at the middle school and before we got these instruments, we only had two sousaphones here.”
UCSO also collected almost 900 pieces of sporting equipment from the military, records reveal. The sheriff says those items, used in connection with its DARE program, will help provide equipment for kids involved in sports.
The First Judicial Drug Task Force also collected some unusual military surplus items. Public records reveal DTF receive four parachutes. Director Mike Adams says undercover officers use those parachutes, not to jump out of planes, but instead like tarps, to lay out meth lab evidence. He says they use the cords from the parachutes to secure gear on their four-wheelers during operations like marijuana eradication.
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