According to Department of Defense data published last week by the New York Times, law enforcement agencies in Orange County have acquired more military surplus armored vehicles than any other county in the state.
In the wake of the heavily-armed police response to protestors in Ferguson, Missouri, a federal program to direct military surplus to local law enforcement agencies is coming under renewed scrutiny. The 1033 program dates back to 1997. In the last year alone it funneled nearly half a billion dollars worth of military gear to police departments and sheriff’s offices across the nation.
Since 2006, Orange County law enforcement has acquired six armored vehicles using the 1033 program, according to the Times. By comparison, Wake County, with a population of just under one million, received only two armored vehicles, while Durham County, with twice the population of Orange, received none. Only 16 of North Carolina’s 100 counties purchased armored vehicles of any kind using the federal program. Stanly, Cabarrus and Davidson counties each boast four.
But it’s not entirely clear which Orange County law enforcement agencies have armored vehicles in their fleet, as the data provided by the Times doesn’t distinguish between local and state agencies in the area.
In 2013, as part of a nationwide investigation into the militarization of local police, the North Carolina chapter of the ACLU requested information from the state’s 60 largest police and sheriff’s departments regarding equipment procured using the 1033 program. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the Chapel Hill Police Department were on that list, but because of their smaller size, Carrboro and Hillsborough police were not.
Orange County Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass responded to the query with a letter stating that the department has one armored vehicle in its fleet, a V150 Commando, that was acquired using the federal program in 2007. He noted it was purchased for incidents involving barricades or hostages and that it requires express approval of the Sheriff to be deployed. To date it has not been used.
The Chapel Hill Police Department’s senior legal advisor replied simply that the department has “no documents responsive to this request.”
UPDATE 11:55 A.M.: Chapel Hill Mayor Pro Tem Sally Greene told WCHL that she planned to meet on Monday afternoon with Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt; Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue; and Town Manager Roger Stancil to discuss the New York Times report.
Greene said to expect a “coordinated statement” sometime this week.
UPDATE 2:12 P.M.: Carrboro Alderperson Damon Seils told WCHL that Police Chief Walter Horton informed him that the Carrboro Police Department does not participate in the 1033 program, although it “may have in the past.”
Seils said that more information will be available in the coming days, as the Town of Carrboro will also release a statement to the public.
Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens posted on chapelboro.com that his town’s police department does not own any armored vehicles.