Throughout 2011, local sheriffs deputies and San Luis Obispo police officers collected an extensive amount of military equipment from rifle sights to night-vision goggles to outfit personnel and beef up their SWAT teams.
Combined, the county Sheriffs Office and San Luis Obispo Police Department received items valued at $1.75 million. But they paid only the price of shipping, thanks to a program run through the U.S. Department of Defense.
Since the program to transfer surplus military equipment started two decades ago, police from Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Cuesta College, Paso Robles, Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo, as well as the Sheriffs Office, have requested more than 7,000 items worth about $2 million, according to a California Watch analysis of Department of Defense data.
Weve received essentially millions of dollars of equipment and spent several thousand dollars at the most in shipping, said sheriffs Cmdr. Brian Hascall. Before that, we made do without. I just find that stuff we have now makes it easier to do our job.
The Sheriffs Office and San Luis Obispo police have requested and obtained by far the most equipment, from sleeping bags to flash bang grenades to military checkpoint kits containing high-powered lights and generators, collapsible traffic cones and rechargeable, LED road flares.
In 2011, sheriffs deputies received 116 rifle sights, 120 fixed-blade knives, three tents, two large storage containers and one public address system. San Luis Obispo police picked up night-vision and thermal-imaging equipment, 87 rifle sights, nearly 50 pairs of wet-weather trousers and 62 cold-weather shirts. Police also obtained some high-powered lights as part of a military checkpoint kit, which came in handy in late March when a Cal Poly student hiking on Bishop Peak fell on a steep rock face. Police used the lights to help guide rescuers to the student.
The Sheriffs Office SWAT team used some of its gear including an armored vehicle and sighting systems on rifles during a 15-hour standoff with an Atascadero man in the fall.
Over the years, the Sheriffs Office has also received 18 M16 rifles, but it has since transferred 10 to an agency in the Bay Area. They are now mainly used for training, and some have been converted to shoot nonlethal ammunition for training purposes.
Most of the law enforcement agencies in the county havent requested items in several years. That could be because, prior to 2011, there wasnt as much gear available to civilian law enforcement agencies, said San Luis Obispo police Officer George Berrios, who has overseen his departments program for two years.
Many of the items go to beef up two SWAT teams: One team comprises the Sheriffs Office and Atascadero police, the other includes members from the countys six other police departments and the Cal Poly police.
Most of the items received are either stored in an armory or distributed to deputies and officers for use. With limited storage space, local authorities arent interested in stockpiling equipment just because its available, Hascall said.
Not all of the gear is in top condition or even close to it. San Luis Obispo police received more than 50 pairs of night-vision goggles with cracked lenses and a missing part, Berrios said.
You dont know what youre going to get at any point in time, he said.
Even so, local officials say the program is worth the money.
Three of the sights we got for rifles would equate to what we pay in shipping for all of the equipment received, said San Luis Obispo police Capt. Chris Staley.
Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.