The ABC7 I-Team is uncovering thousands of pieces of military equipment meant for the battlefield that are instead now in the hands of local police forces statewide.
From high powered military grade rifles to combat helicopters, law enforcement agencies statewide are cashing in on a federal program that provides battle-ready equipment to agencies in your backyard. For the past two decades, Illinois officials have used the Federal Law Enforcement Support Office or LESO 1033 program to outfit law enforcement departments with the latest in military grade equipment and technology. Distribution of weapons as part of the program has come under new scrutiny after the widespread utilization of military grade equipment this week to counter protests in Ferguson, Missouri after a police officer shot and killed teenager Michael Brown there this past weekend.
As the I-Team first reported in 2013, the LESO 1033 program has given away at least $2.6 billion dollars in surplus military equipment nationwide, with at least $37 million ending up here in Illinois.
Now, the I-Team has uncovered a county by county breakdown of exactly what military equipment is here in Illinois. Federal officials refused to release what specific department possesses the equipment, citing homeland security concerns. But, a federal spreadsheet obtained by the I-Team following our initial reporting does detail the kinds of equipment local departments have received as of May 2013.
According to federal records, Illinois law enforcement agencies have received roughly 5,500 rifles and pistols,16 military helicopters and more than 12,000 pieces of assorted military equipment as part of the program. Knox County, west of Peoria, received the most non-weapon military equipment statewide. Knox County agencies’ inventories include more than 1,900 pieces of equipment, from Kevlar combat gloves to paintball guns to combat knives. Cook County is in second place statewide with 1,700 pieces of military equipment registered with the feds.
Weapons distributed are counted separately in federal LESO 1033 program inventories provided to the I-Team. Cook County leads the state with 1,336 weapons assigned to county law enforcement agencies. Downstate Sangamon county has 794 weapons assigned to agencies headquartered there. Interestingly, Knox County, the leader in equipment statewide, only has 15 weapons assigned to their countywide agencies.
"You can’t arm police departments with military-grade equipment and expect them not to behave like an occupying force," says local watchdog Rey Lopez-Calderon with Common Cause Illinois. He continues, “the Ferguson madness can happen anywhere in the USA including Illinois.”