In the aftermath of the 2011 tornadoes that ripped through Phil Campbell and Hackleburg, Russellville Police Chief Chris Hargett quickly realized how underequipped local police departments were to handle natural disasters.
He decided he was going to do something about it.
"When I heard about a program through the military where law enforcement agencies get surplus equipment and supplies for free, I decided we were going to get involved," Hargett said.
Through the Defense Reutilization Marketing Offices program, area law enforcement agencies securee equipment and supplies that would otherwise be beyond their departmental budgets.
"That's the beauty of the program," said Florence police Lt. Mike Holt. "The items available are things that can be used and are needed, but most departments could never afford them. We're not buying the equipment, we're getting it free."
Equipment including Humvees, four-wheel drive trucks, bulldozers, transport trucks and trailers, medical equipment, supplies, filing cabinets, pumps and generators have been secured by local agencies.
Hargett said he has been able to get more than $750,000 worth of equipment through the program, which is overseen by the Defense Logistics Agency in Fort Belvior, Va. The program started in 1999.
"The military uses a lot of stuff every year," said Ken MacNevin, a public affairs officer with the Defense Logistics Agency's activities office in Battle Creek, Mich. "When the equipment is returned, we try to reuse everything possible."
He said the equipment is offered first to other military departments and then to federal agencies.
"What they don't want, we offer to law enforcement agencies," MacNevin said.
According to information from Michelle McCaskill, chief of media relations for the Defense Logistics Agency, the program has provided equipment valued at more than $2.6 billion to law enforcement agencies nationwide.
She said in fiscal year 2011, a record $498 million worth of property was transferred to law enforcement agencies.
"Today, more than 12,000 agencies nationwide have property on record that enables them to respond faster and with greater capability," McCaskill said.
Several local departments secured and are using Humvees. Purchased new, they would each cost from $39,000 to $72,000, Hargett said.
"We have two Humvees," Muscle Shoals police Lt. Clint Reck said. "One we use for SWAT team, the other can be used on patrol if needed in case of bad weather.
"Last year, when we had a huge snow, we had one four-wheel-drive vehicle in our fleet so we were paralyzed. That's not going to happen now."
Tuscumbia Police Chief Tony Logan said his department has a Humvee in its patrol unit that is used during festivals and emergency situations.
"We've told EMA officials that during ice storms we are here to help them if needed," Logan said. "Historically, EMA has to transport medical personnel. Now we can make our vehicle available to them."
Logan said the only cost to the agencies is maintenance, when needed, and any costs incurred in picking up the equipment. The equipment is included in the city's insurance coverage.
"They're not going to bring the stuff to us, we have to go get it," he said. "I know local agencies have gone to a lot of places to get the equipment, but in the end it's worth it."
Russellville has one Humvee the Police Department uses. Another used by the Fire Department has been equipped as an off-road brush truck.
Hargett recently got a dump truck to be used in building a shooting range at the Sheriff's Department.
"When we got it in, we found it had a snowplow with it," Hargett said. "So now, in case of bad weather, we can move snow or ice off the roads."
He said the truck would cost $66,000 if new.
"It's not worth that much now, but we can still use it," he said.
The agencies also secured tents, sleeping bags, generators, rifle sights that cost $300 each, and sniper sights that each cost $2,500.
"And we got a box of rain jackets, still in plastic, that new cost $75 each," Hargett said. "We got 50 of them. Every one of our officers is using them now."
Logan called the program a blessing in light of current tight budgets.
"There's no way we could afford rifle scopes like what we've gotten, or the vehicles without this program," Holt said.
"In the day of shrinking dollars, we all have to work smarter and more efficiently," Logan said. "We have to take advantages of programs like this.
"This equipment is like an insurance police. It prepares us for emergencies and we hope we never had to use it. It's nice to know we have it just in case."
"The old joke is it is better to have a tank and not need it than to need a tank and not have it."
Tom Smith can be reached at 256-740-5757 or tom.smith@TimesDaily.com.
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