Another Snapshot: the Military Surplus That Falls Short in Richmond 

The Richmond Sheriff's Office says it sent away for a digital camera through a now-controversial federal program that transfers military surplus to local law-enforcement departments. But what they got wasn't exactly as described.

"It was an old 4-by-4 box camera from the 1940s," department spokesman Maj. Jerry Baldwin says.

The 1033 program, approved by Congress in 1992, has come under intense scrutiny in the past weeks after police in Ferguson, Mo., responded to civil protests with armored vehicles and assault rifles. Law-enforcement agencies in the Richmond region have used the program to obtain, among other things, 127 assault rifles. But in the city proper, supplies direct from the battlefield are scarce.

The Sheriff's Office hasn't received any equipment through the program since at least 2006. That's because it had such a terrible time getting usable equipment, Baldwin says.

In addition to the camera, the department ordered what was described as a "riot canister" that could pressurize water. What it got was a propane tank designed to mount on an aircraft.

"Unusable," Baldwin says.

Similarly, he says, computers that on paper had great specifications came "stripped of motherboards, hard drives and memory."

The Richmond Police Department hasn't done much better. The only item it has received through the 1033 program still in use is a 1986 GMC pickup. "It's only used to haul supplies," department spokesman Gene Lepley says.

That's not to say Richmond police don't have any military-style gear. They have 65 Colt M-4 .223 caliber rifles. And the department's SWAT team just spent $101,000 on 25 new sets of body armor, paying for it with a grant from the state attorney general's office.

In the department's application for the grant it wrote that it needed the new armor because its current armor is worn and doesn't provide adequate protection of vital areas.

As for the Sheriff's Office, no, deputies didn't start using the antique camera to make vintage mug shots of inmates. Baldwin says the department refused possession of it after discovering that it was mislabeled.


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