Special Report

These Are the Most Militarized State Police Departments

The violent crime rate hit historic highs in the United States in the 1990s. To better equip state and local law enforcement agencies to address violence on American streets, the U.S. Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, also known as the 1033 Program. The NDAA authorizes police and sheriffs departments to procure excess military weapons and equipment from the Department of Defense.

While some military-grade weapons, such as Bradley fighting vehicles or armed drones, are not approved under the program, the list of available equipment is extensive. Tracked and armored vehicles, rifles, bayonets, gunner protection kits, and night vision goggles, for example, are all fair game. (Here is a look at the standard issue police sidearm in America’s 10 biggest cities.)

This Defense Department property can be acquired by law enforcement agencies at no cost beyond expenses related to shipping, maintenance, and storage. Since the NDAA was put in place, the DOD has transferred a reported $7.6 billion worth of military equipment. And since 2010, police departments in every state except Hawaii have used the program. 

Using data from the Defense Logistics Agency of the DoD, 24/7 Wall St. identified the states where law enforcement has the most military equipment. The 49 participating states are ranked by the total value of DOD surplus weapons, material, and equipment procured by its law enforcement agencies between 2010 and the first quarter of 2023. The values associated with these acquisitions reflect the original price paid by the military. 

To better reflect increasing militarization of American law enforcement, items determined by the DOD to present a “low risk” when released from federal control were excluded from our analysis. This low-risk equipment includes items like tents, forklifts, picnic tables, and boots. 

The most valuable military equipment acquired by police departments under the NDAA includes mine resistant vehicles worth hundreds of thousands of dollars fixed wing aircraft and helicopters worth millions. While such equipment has been deemed appropriate for law enforcement purposes, usage is subject to regular federal, state, and local oversight. (Here is a look at the most militarized local police departments in America.)

Click here to see states where law enforcement have the most military equipment.

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