The 25 firearms missing across the state originally came to departments at no cost though a federal surplus program.
With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Military has a lot of surplus equipment. But there is a debate over how much of that equipment should go to local law enforcement and whether there are enough safeguards are in place to keep tabs on everything.
Channel 2’s check of surplus military weapons found 4,387 firearms, but also all kinds of other equipment.
Carroll County Sheriff Terry Langley showed Channel 2’s Tom Regan some of what the military has given his department.
Carroll County has a mine sweeper, night vision goggles and four grenade launchers. Regan asked the sheriff why the department needed grenade launchers.
“One of the things you could use (is) tear gas, less lethal bean bag stuff if you had a hostage situation, what have you," Langley said.
The department has also received a military tow truck, which it converted into a salt spreader. That came in handy during the winter storms.
Donated military weapons by the numbers
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“We were able to rescue stranded motorists; we were able to keep traffic going,” Langley said.
The sheriff said the surplus program helps local law enforcement better serve and protect their communities while saving money.
But there are critics. University of Georgia law professor Donald Wilkes has studied the military donations and questioned why some of these items were given to police officers.
For instance, Channel 2 found the Department of Defense donated 546 bayonets to local authorities.
“What possible legitimate use do American police have for bayonets? And under what circumstances are they going to use them?” asked Wilkes. “Increased paramilitary activities by the police means more force and violence by the police. More doors kicked down, more explosive devices set off.”
Wilkes pointed to the 2006 death of a Fairfax, Virginia man. A SWAT team shot and killed optometrist Salvatore Culosi Jr., who was under investigation for gambling.
Police admitted he was unarmed and showed no threatening behavior. No one was charged in the death, as the shooting appeared to be accidental.
Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson recently wrote a column in USA today, calling for more oversight of the military program that donates equipment to police.
“I don't want our society to become militarized and things to feel like we're living in the middle of a war zone,” Johnson said.
He plans to introduce legislation that would ban the distribution of armored personnel carriers, large-caliber assault rifles, drones and more.
"There's the possibility that that weaponry can be transferred into private hands. Then law enforcement really has something to worry about,” Johnson said.
In Georgia, authorities have not identified any of the missing weapons as having been used in a crime.
Proponents of the program say the donations are invaluable.
“It gives us equipment to deal with day to day situations that we could not fund,” Langley said.
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