By Elena Baurkot
WASHINGTON-Police departments at four Maryland public universities have received more than $190,000 worth of surplus military equipment-ranging from rifles to an armored truck-from the federal government at no charge, according to public records reviewed by Capital News Service.
The records show that the equipment went to campus law enforcement agencies at the University of Maryland College Park, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and Salisbury University.
The University of Maryland College Park police department accounts for the majority of the military hardware with about $175,000 worth of tactical equipment; Coppin State has about $10,000 worth; Morgan State has approximately $3,400 worth and Salisbury has around $2,000 worth.
Surplus military equipment has been available to state and local law enforcement agencies since 1990, first through the Defense Department and, since 1997, through the Justice Department.
The ability of police departments to obtain military gear gained widespread public attention last August, when police in Ferguson, Missouri, used a variety of military hardware and equipment in responding to protests following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a city policeman.
Through the program, police departments of the four Maryland universities have collectively acquired M14 and M16 rifles, shotguns, pistols, utility trucks, an armored truck, cartridges and office equipment that is not listed in public records.
The University of Maryland police department's two utility trucks (valued at a total of $84,437) are used to respond to incidents in inclement weather. The armored truck (valued at $65,070) is only lightly armored and couldn't withstand a grenade but could withstand some rifle ammunition, protecting officers and medics in the case of an active shooter, said Sgt. Rosanne Hoaas, the spokeswoman for the department.
The majority of this equipment could be obtained without the federal program, but at a high expense, Hoaas said.
"Everyone's going through budget issues across the board and it's no different for us," she explained. "It's money that we could use elsewhere to also help benefit the agency so it's a big deal for us."
The federal Defense Logistics Agency updates data quarterly on equipment distributed through the program. As of March 31, the four Maryland universities had tactical equipment valued at about $190,000. This number does not account for depreciation or equipment that was returned.
While police departments in some states have to pay a fee for acquiring equipment through the program, police departments in Maryland receive the equipment free of charge. The Defense Logistics Agency and the federal Law Enforcement Support Office do not charge police departments to use the program.
Currently through the program, three of the four university police departments-University of Maryland College Park, Morgan State University and Salisbury University-collectively have 63 rifles - 59 M16s and four M14s.
The rifles have been demilitarized, which means they can only be fired semi-automatically with an officer pulling the trigger for each shot, Hoaas explained.
The University of Maryland College Park has 50 M16s and two M14s valued collectively at slightly more than $25,000, according to records reviewed by Capital News Service.
Spokespeople at the universities said the rifles are useful for training and could be beneficial to police during a violent episode on campus. The University of Maryland's two M14 rifles are used only for ceremonial purposes, Hoaas said.
"Our police department would not have been able to purchase these items," Clinton Coleman, a spokesman for Morgan State University, said about the rifles. "There are other priorities that would have taken the place of these."
Morgan has five M16 rifles valued at $499 apiece and two M14 rifles valued at $138 apiece, records show. Morgan also obtained six 12-gauge shotguns, valued collectively at $648, through the program.
Coppin has five 12-gauge shotguns, valued at a total of $540 and 30 Glock pistols valued collectively at $9,600, according to program records. Those records also show that Salisbury has obtained four M16 rifles valued at nearly $2,000.
To receive equipment, police departments must request the item they need and the state coordinator for the program must approve the request. It is then sent to a second tier of approval by the federal Law Enforcement Support Office and the item is awarded based on availability.
When a police department no longer needs the equipment, it can send it back. The University of Maryland police department returned 16 shotguns in January that were no longer needed, Hoaas said.
"We always want to look at what we have and see what is the purpose for the equipment because that's really what it comes down to," Hoaas said. "What is the purpose for this equipment and how is it being used?"