Local sheriff’s offices see little impact from military gear limits

Officials with Sheriff’s Offices in Warren, Shenandoah and Frederick counties are shrugging off President Barack Obama’s decision to limit the federal government’s transfer of military equipment to police agencies around the country.

The new restrictions apply only to a few items, most of which are not part of the equipment inventory at area police agencies.

The list of items no longer eligible for transfer includes armored vehicles that move on tracks instead of wheels; weaponized aircraft, vessels and vehicles of any kind; firearms and ammunition of .50 caliber or higher; grenade launchers; bayonets; and some camouflage uniforms, not including those with woodland or desert patterns or solid colors.

Obama explained the restrictions as a response to outbreaks of civil unrest that began in Ferguson, Missour, in August. The spectacle of police equipped with heavy-duty weapons and other military-style gear confronting angry crowds led to calls for a ban on such shows of force.

Obama said the use of militarized equipment can aggravate tensions between law enforcement officials and residents of predominantly black neighborhoods upset over what they perceive as excessive and heavy-handed policing.

Warren County Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron said rifles and other equipment that his agency acquired through the military falls outside the list of items identified as no longer eligible for the federal transfer programs.

Even items unavailable from the Pentagon can still be obtained from other sources, McEathron said.

“His decision doesn’t make any difference to us,” McEathron said of Obama. “We’ve always tried to be self-sustaining and not depend on getting equipment from somewhere else if we can swing it ourselves.

“It doesn’t mean we can’t have that stuff. It just means we can’t get it from the military.”

Shenandoah and Warren counties have obtained a sizeable number of rifles through military transfers, but the firearms are smaller than the .50 caliber weapons no longer offered by the federal government.

“We looked over the list, and we’ve not had any of that gear here, so it shouldn’t have any impact on this agency,” Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy C. Carter said.

Carter said he was puzzled about why the list of banned items did not specify what camouflage patterns and colors are not allowable for transfer. The list states that clothing designed for woodland and desert environments are still obtainable, along with solid colors. Carter said he couldn’t think of any other kind of camouflage.

Maj. Clyde Van Meter of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office also said he saw little effect on his agency. A database from the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency shows the Sheriff’s Office acquired a mine-resistant vehicle valued at $733,000 and 10 rifles, all less than .50 caliber.

“What the president said doesn’t affect our department as much as other police agencies,” Van Meter said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com