Some military gear given to police winds up in the wrong hands

08/28/2014 7:04 PM

08/28/2014 7:12 PM

Six military helicopters, a Boeing 737 and more than 40 armored tactical vehicles are now in the hands of Texas police.

But two agencies don’t qualify. Officers lost weapons. Or sold them.

The police department in the Eastland County town of Rising Star is suspended from the program, a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman confirmed Thursday.

In February, a federal grand jury indicted former police Chief William Kelcy of Early over the resale or trade of more than $4 million in military weapons and equipment, including an M14 assault rifle.

Kelcy, then 41, since has died. His obituary photo showed him with a rifle.

New Rising Star Chief Jason Weger, one month into the job, said he will not apply for more equipment.

“It’s a good program for small agencies like ours,” said Weger, hired from nearby Cisco.

“But I’m not interested in reapplying after all the trouble they had here.”

The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department, based in McAllen and serving the eighth largest county in Texas, is also suspended from federal handouts.

A military pistol was stolen in December when a police vehicle was broken into, Tom Vinger, a Department of Public Safety spokesman, said.

According to an investigation by the ABC-affiliated Fusion.net, M14 and M16 assault rifles have gone missing across the country, and more than 180 agencies are suspended from the program. Two Humvees are missing, Fusion reported.

In Texas, the DPS manages and supervises the equipment through the Texas 1033 Military Surplus Property Program, a reference to Section 1033 of a federal law allowing the loans.

Another agency, the police department in the tiny East Texas town of Wells, was suspended after state officials said military weapons wound up in a pawn shop. The town disbanded the force.

In North Texas, the Ennis Police Department is eligible to apply again after a suspension was lifted Thursday.

Ennis officers never picked up a vehicle listed as loaned, Vinger said.

Ennis Police Chief John Erisman said, “We definitely are not missing anything. There was apparently some confusion on their end from many years ago.”

The widespread loans of defense equipment began in 1990, when Congress authorized them for “counter-drug activities.”

About 90 miles west of Fort Worth in Young County, population about 18,500, sheriff’s deputies just picked up their second armored vehicle, according to the Graham Leader.

When a county commissioner questioned the need for two armored vehicles in a rural county, sheriff’s Deputy Jim Budarf said they were for “barricaded subjects, hostage situations, school shootings, you name it. There are endless possibilities.”

In Tarrant County, where two deputies died in the 1997 crash of a military surplus helicopter, Sheriff Dee Anderson said his office has not applied for more equipment and “it’s not the bargain people think it is.”

“We don’t have any of that stuff, and we don’t feel it’s necessary,” Anderson said last week.

“It looks really good on the front end. The military is giving you something free. But once you look at the upkeep, the maintenance, the cost of keeping up with it winds up costing you.”

Anderson was elected in 2000 on the heels of Sheriff David Williams, who borrowed enough military equipment to outfit an army and then asserted sovereign power to command the entire county and levy his own taxes “under the Magna Carta.”

Anderson sees the bottom line.

“It’s not a good value for the taxpayers,” he said.

And you have to hang on to it.

About Bud Kennedy

Bud Kennedy

@budkennedy

Bud Kennedy is a homegrown Fort Worth guy who started out covering high school football here when he was 16. He went away to the Fort Worth Press and newspapers in Austin and Dallas, then came home in 1981.

Since 1987, he's written more than 1,000 weekly dining columns and more than 3,000 news and politics columns. If you don't like what he says about politics, read him on barbecue.

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