After two years of waiting, Ohio law enforcement agencies will now be able to request grenade launchers, armored vehicles and other weapons on loan from the federal government.
The federal Department of Defense’s combat-logistics support agency has determined that the state is in full compliance with all aspects of the Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) Program as of May 29, so normal program operations may resume.
"Our guys have been watching it very closely," said Fairfield County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Alex Lape, who said several requests have already been submitted and denied. "We still are monitoring what's available and what will meet our needs."
Lape did not have information about all of the requests but did say one included 12 parkas for use if deputies have to remain outdoors for hours during a barricade situation in the winter. The sheriff's office has an armored vehicle used by its tactical team from a transfer from Columbus police about a decade ago.
"We've received some very useful equipment. Weapons (mounted) lights, stuff like that is kind of cost-prohibitive," Lape said. "We have a pretty tight budget. So it's nice to pick some of those luxury items that make doing the job easier."
Melissa McCaskill, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency, said nine Ohio law enforcement agencies had submitted requests as of Wednesday, including the Fairfield County Sheriff's Office and the Pickerington Police Department.
"The items requested are mostly textiles, first-aid items and small, off-road vehicles," she said in an email. "Most (requests) were systematically canceled because of no longer being available," meaning it was obtained by another agency.
"Other requests are in the system to see if the items are still available," McCaskill said.
Pickerington Police Commander Tod Cheney said three items have been requested by his department so far, including night-vision equipment for tactical team members on a countywide team. The night vision request met the initial approvals in the process, he said. The department has never used the program for weapons or vehicles, he said.
The military surplus program dates back to the early 1990s, when Congress signed off on the program to help federal and state agencies fight the war on drugs. Over the years, the program and intent was expanded to include local law-enforcement agencies. Requests submitted by local agencies are screened by a state coordinator appointed by each governor and later by the Defense Logistics Agency.
Ohio has more law-enforcement agencies participating in the military-surplus program than any other state since the program's inception. Documents show more than 24,138 items were acquired from the military. Those items had an original value of $62 million. Military equipment, such as weapons, are free for law-enforcement agencies to use but are considered on loan from the federal government. Agencies don't have to pay to use the equipment but must pay for shipping, storage and any needed repair or maintenance of the items.
The state was suspended from participation in the program two years ago for failing a compliance review when seven law-enforcement agencies were in violation of the agreement. Then, in March 2017, the state failed a follow-up compliance review due to an unauthorized transfer of an M16 rifle between law-enforcement agencies and 84 pieces of unaccounted-for property.
In April 2018, Ohio passed a compliance check after meeting the requirements of a corrective plan. That plan included every law-enforcement agency going through retraining in order to participate.
There were 467 agencies with 581 staff members that completed the training. A total of 84 agencies did not complete the training, resulting in 37 getting dropped from the program; 47 were already in the process of returning equipment.
In the fall, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions lifted a ban put in place by former President Barack Obama. Through an executive order, Obama prohibited the sale of some military items to law enforcement, including track-propelled vehicles, grenade launchers, armed aircraft, .50-caliber guns, bayonets and camouflage clothing.
The next compliance review for Ohio is scheduled for 2020.