OK Sheriffs Upset Over Senator's Proposed Military Surplus Bill

Tuesday, September 30th 2014, 7:30 pm
By: News 9

Some Oklahoma sheriffs are upset at Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn's bill, called the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, to end the practice of local law enforcement acquiring certain government military surplus equipment.

The Canadian County Sheriff's Office received a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP, in the spring through a federal program for surplus equipment for $2,500.

“Oklahoma is very fortunate to be able to get 30 of these machines to protect our men and women who are putting their lives on the line every day to protect their fellow Oklahomans,” said Canadian County Undersheriff Chris West.

The sheriff's office spent $12,000 painting the transport vehicle with its own logos and outfitting it with flashing lights. The office said it uses the MRAP for SWAT team calls and other dangerous situations they encounter.

“As a marine veteran and a 30-year law enforcement veteran, I can tell you cops bleed and die, too,” said West.

However, that excitement turned to disappointment this month when Coburn criticized the surplus program that allowed Canadian County to get the MRAP.

"Our founders saw no role for the federal government in state and local police forces, none,” Coburn said during a recent hearing on the issue.

Many members of Congress think such programs may have gone too far and Senator Coburn introduced legislation on Sept. 18 to reign in the practice.

“I don't understand at all why he would want to decrease our survivability on high risk situations,” West told News 9.

The undersheriff said the vehicle was de-militarized before they received it and it has no weapons or offensive accessories. West said the surplus program was the only way the sheriff's office could afford to buy what it sees as a necessary piece of equipment.

“This thing was purchased with federal dollars for the military. What better use of federal dollars that have already been spent than to use it at the local level, so we don't have to spend $300,000?” West asked.

The Oklahoma Sheriff's Association is encouraging sheriffs and law enforcement across the state to contact Coburn to oppose his bill.

The sheriff's office said it has plans to acquire more government surplus equipment in the near future.

Coburn's proposed bill has been referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee.