E. Texas police department suspended from military surplus program
EUSTACE, TX (KLTV) - The Eustace Police Department has been suspended from the Department of Defense's program that provides military surplus to law enforcement agencies.
The Defense Logistics Agency said the suspension occurred on September 8 and the department has been forwarded to the DLA's Office of Inspector General for an investigation. Eustace Police Chief Ken Holder was terminated by the city council during a meeting on September 4 for 'multiple violations of the employee handbook and police department code of conduct.'
Eustace leaders have not commented what sections of the handbook and code of conduct were allegedly violated by Holder. Eustace Police Department's entrusted property room was cataloged by members of the Texas Rangers to "determine whether the department has adequate controls over seized property, drugs, and evidence to ensure that they are tracked and safeguarded."
An independent audit was asked for as a result of the removal of the police chief; to establish a baseline for an incoming police chief to begin," Department of Public Safety spokesperson Jean Dark said Tuesday in a statement.
According to DLA records obtained by KLTV 7 Investigates, the Eustace Police Department received $707,000 worth of equipment from the program.
Those items ranged from a truck tractor worth $166,233 to M-16 rifles and even an elliptical issued to the police department.
Repeated calls to former Eustace Chief Holder have not been returned.
The DLA's 1033 program has come under scrutiny after the heavy police presence and response in Ferguson, Missouri, following the officer-involved shooting of a young man. After those incidents, President Barack Obama ordered a review of the program.
"Law enforcement all over the country has a hard job to do," said Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby on August 19. "Ninety-nine percent of them all do it very well, and some of the equipment they get through this program helps them do that job."
Several groups have voiced their opposition to the 1033 program, including one that is in Texas.
"Smaller communities also often lack established civilian review boards and other mechanisms for oversight and accountability which make recognizing misuse or abuse within police departments difficult or impossible," said Anton Montoya of the group Stop1033.org. "This systemic problem is further compounded by the absence of any training requirements and the obligation to use any equipment within one year outlined by the DLA."
Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) introduced legislation Tuesday named 'Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act of 2014.' The bill would place restrictions and transparency measures on the 1033 program.
"Our nation was founded on the principle of a clear line between the military and civilian policing," said Rep. Labrador. "The Pentagon's current surplus property program blurs that line by introducing a military model of overwhelming force in our cities and towns. Our bill would restore the focus of local law enforcement on protecting citizens and providing due process for the accused."
According to Rep. Johnson's office, the Act would:
- Prevent transfers of equipment inappropriate for local policing, such as high-caliber weapons, long-range acoustic devices, grenade launchers, drones, armored vehicles, etc.
- End incentives to use equipment in circumstances when the use is unnecessary. (Removing the requirement departments must use equipment within one year of receipt)
- Require agencies certify they can account for all equipment.
- Add requirements to enforce tracking of equipment and transfers to agencies.
As of September 3, four agencies -- Ennis Police Department, Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office, Rising Star Police Department and Wells Police Department -- had their 1033 privileges suspended. According to DPS spokesman Tom Vinger, the agency has since asked for Ennis PD and Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office status to be reinstated.
Vinger also said the suspension for the Wells Police Department has been lifted since the agency no longer exists. Their suspension occurred when three firearms, two handguns and one shotgun, were reportedly lost. DPS said two of the weapons were taken and recovered at a pawn shop and a third weapon was reported stolen, but later recovered.
The suspension for the Rising Star Police Department remains in effect. Their former chief was indicted on federal charges, but died before a trial was set to begin.
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