US military gear program drops Arpaio's office

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX (AP) -- The federal government dropped the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office from the program that funnels surplus military equipment to police departments because the Arizona agency cannot account for some weapons, Sheriff Joe Arpaio said Thursday.

The sheriff, whose agency patrols unincorporated areas of the county that includes most of the Phoenix area, said he recently received termination letters from the U.S. Defense Department and the program's coordinator for Arizona.

Arpaio's agency was suspended from the program in 2012 because it was missing eight handguns and one rifle from among the hundreds of weapons it received through the program. Arpaio said his office tried but failed to locate the missing weapons, including checking whether retired deputies had them.

The sheriff said he has 120 days to return the equipment, which also includes night-vision goggles and helicopters. He said he will ask for extra time to return a search-and-rescue helicopter until the county receives in March a new helicopter it is buying.

Otherwise, the office has plenty of firepower it got through other means and won't miss the military surplus equipment, Arpaio said.

Public safety "is not going to be hurting," he said, citing a recent purchase of hundreds of semi-automatic rifles for deputies. "We've got plenty of our own stuff."

The federal program began in 1990 as a way to help states and local agencies fight drug-related crime and expanded in the mid-1990s. It has come under increasing scrutiny recently, with critics such as the American Civil Liberties Union complaining that it has contributed to a militarization of police agencies.

The program's state coordinator, Payson police Detective Matthew Van Camp, did not immediately return a call Thursday.

The Arizona Republic first reported the termination.

In Yavapai County, law enforcement agencies have received dozens of rifles, several armored vehicles and bomb-disposal robots.

Prescott Police Chief Jerald Monahan told The Daily Courier that his department needs the weapons and vehicles as a "just in case" solution to a situation such as a school shooting.

"Everything we have received, I believe, has a place in what law enforcement is facing in today's environment," Monahan said.

Arpaio's office is not the only Arizona agency to run into problems with the program.

Federal officials in 2012 ordered the Pinal County Sheriff's Office to recover trucks and other equipment loaned to non-police agencies, such as fire and ambulance units, in violation of the program's rules.

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