Aug 27, 2014 9:46 PM by Andy Koen
FREMONT COUNTY - The Department of Defense has given law enforcement agencies in Colorado more than $22 million worth of surplus equipment in recent years and the Florence Police Department has grabbed one of the biggest slices of that pie.
Since 2011, Florence PD has received $3.7 million worth of equipment ranging from M-16 rifles and a Mine Resistant Vehicle to gym equipment and a refrigerator. The listed value of that equipment exceeds the combined $1.9 million value of all the property distributed to law enforcement agencies of Pueblo and El Paso Counties.
Florence Police Chief Michael DeLaurentis says using surplus military equipment is a financial necessity. With just $32,035 in his budget for equipment this year, DeLaurentis couldn't properly equip his officers without the federal largess.
"Up to this year, to be honest with you, the officers provided their own service weapon, their own magazines, their own rifles, their own shotguns," he said. "We didn't provide any of that."
In May of 2012, the department received ten M-16 rifles that have since been modified from full automatic to standard single shot firearms. In early 2013, the department received 16 notebook computers giving officers the ability to receive dispatch calls and file reports from their squad cars.
The hard drives were removed and DeLaurentis said he needed to spend about $100 apiece to make them operable again. However, it was a bargain compared to the DOD's $7,704.83 list price.
It is free equipment and some items are unusable. All six pairs of night vision goggles shipped to Florence last December had broken lenses. Still, DeLaurentis said the equipment acquired through the 1033 Program helped him meet modern police standards.
"We don't look at it as police department that we're trying to militarize at all," he said. "We're just trying to provide the best service to our community and Fremont County and the neighboring agency of Cañon City we can."
The most expensive item to come to town is the $733,000 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle. It is shared between the Florence and Cañon City police departments and the Fremont County Sheriff's Office through their combined SWAT team. DeLaurentis said the decision to request the MRAP came down to safety. As a negotiator with the SWAT, he often had to position himself dangerously close to an armed suspect with only his police sedan for cover.
"When you're trying to negotiate with someone who won't answer their cell phone, won't answer their phone, they're standing in their garage and you have to get within so many feet and use a PA from a vehicle; it gets a little bit interesting when they've got a rifle at their feet," DeLaurentis said.
He estimates the MRAP has already been put to use 11 times this year.