Thursday, October 2, 2014
My Account  | Login
Nashua;55.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/ovc.png;2014-10-02 08:26:04
Sunday, August 24, 2014

NH has obtained one military assault rifle for every three police officers

By DAVID BROOKS

Staff Writer

In the last eight years, New Hampshire police departments have obtained military surplus assault rifles at the rate of one for every three officers now serving in the state.

Or maybe more; it’s hard to tell because tracking down hard numbers is an elusive task. ...

Sign up to continue

Print subscriber?    Sign up for Full Access!

Please sign up for as low as 36 cents per day to continue viewing our website.

Digital subscribers receive

  • Unlimited access to all stories from nashuatelegraph.com on your computer, tablet or smart phone.
  • Access nashuatelegraph.com, view our digital edition or use our Full Access apps.
  • Get more information at nashuatelegraph.com/fullaccess
Sign up or Login

In the last eight years, New Hampshire police departments have obtained military surplus assault rifles at the rate of one for every three officers now serving in the state.

Or maybe more; it’s hard to tell because tracking down hard numbers is an elusive task.

That statistic comes from a database compiled by the New York Times as the violent protests in Ferguson, Mo., have drawn attention to the amount of military equipment that has been sold to police departments nationwide.

This is not a new issue in New Hampshire. Debates in Concord and Keene about whether the police departments need quarter-million-dollar armored vehicles called BearCats grew so heated that one state legislator tried banning police from using federal grants to buy such equipment.

But aside from a few such high-profile incidents, it’s hard to know how much military equipment has been bought by police departments around the state.

“No one can say exactly what has been purchased in total across the country or how it’s being used, that’s because the federal government doesn’t keep close track,” is the conclusion of a story on the subject from the Center for Investigative Reporting. “State and local governments don’t maintain uniform records.”

The Defense Department runs a military-transfer program that was created by Congress in the early 1990s, and the Department of Homeland Security runs a grant program that helps police departments buy military equipment, but there’s no easy database of what has been bought by whom.

The New York Times recently compiled a huge database of military equipment sold to police departments around the country, but it isn’t comprehensive. Notably, it doesn’t include either of the BearCats in its list of New Hampshire materiel.

The Times database includes less controversial items such as night-vision goggles or body armor, as well as items such as grenade launchers, assault rifles and armored vehicles. It was compiled at the county level, not for individual police departments.

The numbers are large, especially when considering that New Hampshire historically does not have a large police presence. A study by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire said that as of 2010, New Hampshire had a total of 2,606 sworn police officers, including state police – meaning officers paid by governments with full arrest powers and authority to carry a firearm.

That’s 2.0 officers per 1,000 residents, well under the national average of 2.3 officers. The rate in Hillsborough County was even lower: just 1.65 sworn officers per 1,000 people.

The New York Times study said that since 2006, police departments in New Hampshire have bought or otherwise obtained:

862 assault rifles – defined as 5.5 mm or 7.6 mm rifles with automatic fire capability and large detachable magazines – or one per three current officers.

182 night-vision goggles.

34 “body armor pieces.”

Six pistols.

Two grenade launchers, which went to one or more departments in Belknap County, which covers the Lake District.

New Hampshire isn’t unusual. Vermont, which has half of New Hampshire’s population, has received 87 assault rifles and one “mine-resistant vehicle,” while the inland county around Augusta, Maine, received two airplanes.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).