Pentagon Demands Return of Equipment from Arizona Sheriff

Sunday, September 16, 2012
Sheriff Paul Babeu

An Arizona sheriff trying to help out cash-strapped public safety agencies—or attempting to curry political favor in an election year—apparently ran afoul of Pentagon rules when he lent out surplus military equipment and supplies starting in 2010. Pinal County, Arizona, Sheriff Paul Babeu lent hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of Humvees, fire trucks, medical equipment and other supplies to Pinal County agencies, including rural volunteer fire departments and fire & rescue units. The Defense Department (DOD) ordered the sheriff to retrieve the items in May 2012.


The Pentagon provides surplus military goods to police departments through the 1033 Program as a way to help fight crime while saving local tax dollars. Nationwide in 2011, about 12,000 police organizations got nearly $500 million worth of excess military gear free of charge, although their need for some of the heavy-duty military hardware has been questioned. Since August 2010, Sheriff Babeu has requisitioned more than $7 million worth for his county, which is located between Phoenix and Tucson in south-central Arizona.


Sheriff Babeu and his supporters claim there was no rule against lending the equipment, and that the Sheriff’s office received verbal approval for the practice it calls widespread. Although DOD denied those arguments, in June it began rewriting its regulations and contracts to clarify that police agencies obtaining property under the program may not subsequently loan the items to other agencies.


Sheriff’s spokesman Tim Gaffney told the Arizona Republic that loaning gear to fire departments or a private-ambulance service enhances public safety at no cost to taxpayers, an argument echoed by Pinal County volunteer fire chiefs Bud Paine (Pinal Rural Fire Rescue) and Steve Kerber (Regional Fire and Rescue Department), who conducted a letter-writing campaign to defend Babeu. Paine, whose agency received some of the surplus goods from Babeu, wrote that the equipment was essential to public safety and that “It's a very real possibility that citizens and Sheriff’s Office personnel could die because of this,” a point buttressed by DOD’s decision to halt the retrieval of some of the equipment because “these were the only lifesaving vehicles to be used in remote locations.”


Critics argue that Babeu, who gave up on a congressional campaign earlier this year to seek re-election as sheriff, intentionally requested more gear than he needed in order to distribute the surplus in Pinal County to curry political favor. Babeu stands accused of stockpiling military goods, including weapons, to auction off for profit—a practice forbidden by the 1033 contract and Pentagon regulations.


Ironically, just a few weeks before the Arizona Republic published its first article on Sheriff Babeu’s use of the 1033 program, his office received an award from the Defense Logistics Agency for “Superior Achievement in Fiscal Stewardship,” based on cost savings from requisitions during 2011. DOD spokeswoman Michele McCaskill admitted that the award was titled “Million Dollar Customer” and was given to all 52 agencies that requisitioned more than $1 million in surplus goods—an odd criterion for “fiscal stewardship.”

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Feds Order Sheriff Babeu to Retrieve Items he Improperly Loaned (by Dennis Wagner, Arizona Republic)

U.S. Dumps Excess Equipment on Police Departments that Don’t Need It (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

The Militarization of Your Local Police (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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