EUSTACE, TX (KLTV) - The sights and sounds of the protests and police reaction in Ferguson, Missouri, are not something we are used to seeing in middle America. But the firepower and gear police in Missouri -- and in East Texas -- have, could be provided directly from the federal government.
It is a part of the Department of Defense's 1033 program, which allows law enforcement agencies to request and receive items from the military that are no longer in use.
The program is in use nationwide, including in East Texas. KLTV 7 Investigates surveyed data from the Department of Defense and found departments across the state received more than $132 million in items from the military. That includes one of the pricier items, the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP.
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Longview police's MRAP was received earlier this year at no cost to the department.
Agencies in Anderson, Gregg, Nacogdoches, Smith and Van Zandt Counties all requested and received the vehicles which resemble a tank-like vehicle.
The program is not just armored vehicles but items like laptops, cell phones and office supplies that would otherwise be collecting dust.
One agency in East Texas that has saved on items through the program is the Eustace Police Department.
Chief Ken Holder said his department typically has an annual budget of around $100,000. His department, over the past few years, has received items worth $707,000, or seven times his annual budget.
The department has used the 1033 program to receive weapons, humvees and other machinery. One unique project Eustace is working on is turning a waste water treatment plant into a firing range to keep officers in-town to train, instead of having to leave the city or county to train.
The 1033 program has no strict regulations in place, except when a department is done with the equipment, they are asked to return it to the Department of Defense. No training is required on the weapons or vehicles departments receive from the department. However, Longview Police said the MRAP will have two 'operators' who will go to a school to learn how to use the vehicle properly.
Eustace police have even used their off-road vehicles to assist other agencies who were stuck in the mud on calls in poor weather.
With the added firepower and armored vehicles hitting departments across the country, groups like the American Civil Liberties Union are asking if the 1033 program is turning local police departments into a military police force. However, East Texas law enforcement said the threat they face is real and happens more than the public might notice.
"Two to three times per year we face an armed suspect," Chief Holder said. "We're not trying to militarize, but we want to have the tools in our toolbox to respond to the situation."
Holder, who has spent years working in law enforcement in Henderson County, remembers an incident in 2007 that many in area law enforcement will never forget: A situation wherein two Henderson County deputies were gunned down at their patrol cars when responding to a call near Payne Springs.
Mays now sits on Texas Death Row. His execution is scheduled for March 2015.
Holder said he does not know if things would have been different that day if more firepower and armor were available, but he said today they have to prepare for the worst.
"I wish we didn't have to have armored vehicles. I wish we didn't have a need for patrol rifles," he said. "The bad guys have [high-powered ammunition]… and they have more than what we have.