Law enforcement agencies throughout the United States are stepping up to donate equipment to Ukraine. Most of the donations are body armor vests and helmets, both made of a bullet-resistant material. I know of no other bullet-resistant material other than Kevlar, but the equipment could be made from other synthetic materials manufactured by other firms.
The Kevlar equipment being donated has outlived its use. Kevlar guarantees its product for only five years because the material can deteriorate as moisture, heat and other atmospheric factors weaken the material. After that time, mostly because of liability, law enforcement agencies must upgrade and purchase new tactical equipment and destroy outdated equipment.
The protective vests and helmets being sent to Ukraine are those that were destined to be destroyed. I suppose the intention is noble, but isn’t it a little like sending a dozen jars of mayonnaise to the food bank because the ‘best by’ date stamped on the side was six months ago? The mayo is probably still good, but once the jar is opened it won’t take long to spoil. Similarly, with equipment that was intended to be destroyed, isn’t the likelihood that it will not withstand the expectations of Ukrainian soldiers?
I don’t want to dissuade what appears to be an altruistic gesture of law enforcement agencies across America, but the donation of otherwise useless equipment brings up a question that so many local and state governments should address. For instance, the City of Des Moines Municipal Code allows the procurement administrator to “dispose of surplus property not deemed suitable or appropriate for sale by such means as the procurement administrator deems appropriate.” That language is so broad you could drive an armored personnel carrier through it. And some local jurisdictions have one.
For years, the federal government made excess government equipment available to states, counties, and cities at no cost (or a minimal shipping and handling fee). Some of that equipment included mine-resistant trucks, grenade launchers, utility trucks, rifles, night vision goggles and other gear.
- Police receive most of their militarized equipment through two federal programs: the 1033 and the 1122 initiatives.
- The 1033 program allows the Department of Defense to transfer excess military equipment to local law enforcement agencies free of charge, as long as they pay for shipping and maintenance.
- In some cases, equipment transferred through these programs has simply vanished due to an apparent lack of oversight and poor bookkeeping.
The city of Iowa City has a mine resistant ambush vehicle. An MRAP (pronounced Em-wrap), is a “49,000-pound, 10-foot-tall, six-wheel-drive behemoth” primarily used in the wars in the Mid-east. Sheriffs in Buena Vista, Des Moines, Jasper, Scott, and Story counties also have the MRAPs, as well as city police departments in Mason City and Storm Lake.
The donation of vests and helmets are like throwing a dollar in the hat when it’s passed. However, donating those weapons of war like MRAPs, night vision goggles, rifles, and other large military items would be like tossing a twenty-dollar bill into the hat. Further, those weapons of war should not be used to militarize our police forces, who are there to protect our communities’ residents, not to combat them.
Those five-year-old helmets and vests would have been destroyed if not donated to the Ukrainians. Granted, green is good. But the loophole in the process of determining that they are no longer useful or appropriate should be tweaked. The broad language in municipal codes that allows procurement administrators to dispose of surplus and outdated equipment as the administrator “deems appropriate” needs oversight, specific requirements, and regular periodic auditing provisions.