For years, police departments nationwide, including those in Georgia, have taken advantage of a Department of Defense program providing surplus military equipment to local police.

In Georgia, the 1033 program has resulted in departments with equipment as small as office binders and as large as mine-resistant vehicles. In 2013, the 42-officer Tybee Island Police Department obtained a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle, or MRAP, which are typically used to protect U.S. soldiers from roadside bombs and explosives. It is worth more than $400,000, according to the data.

The agency said it intends to use the vehicle for water rescues as a result of flooding and hurricanes, but it has not yet seen "official deployment."

"During Tropical Storm Irma, Tybee experienced significant flooding. As a result, some areas of the island became difficult or dangerous to access with the patrol vehicles that were available at the time. By utilizing the 1033 program, we were able to better equip our team while saving taxpayer money at the same time," Tybee Island Police Department Lt. Emory Randolph said.

The sheriff's office in Liberty County, home to the largest U.S. Army base east of the Mississippi River, also has an MRAP. Its intended uses are more tactical.

"The Liberty County Sheriff’s Office received an armored mine-resistant vehicle from the 1033 program on November 9, 2016. The vehicle is used as a personnel carrier for the Special Response Team to ensure the safety of personnel responding to, or departing from, situations involving armed individuals or other situations where additional coverage is needed based on threat analysis," according to Sheriff's Office Lt. Phillip Bohannon.

Law enforcement agencies participating in 1033 get the military equipment for free but are required to pay for shipping, storage, and maintenance.

The American Civil Liberties Union has criticized the federal program with contributing to over-militarization of local police departments. In a 2014 report, the organization criticized the mass disbursement of military weapons, vehicles, and equipment to police departments as lacking in oversight and contributing to aggressive policing by SWAT teams.

"From 2011 to 2014 alone, the military distributed more than 29,000 military-grade rifles to 18,000 law enforcement agencies. Police militarization penetrated a number of aspects of American life — even law enforcement attached to K-12 public schools participated in 1033," according to the ACLU. "The violent repression of the Ferguson protests in 2014 emphasized the severity of a long, troubling pattern of militarization."

In 2016, former President Barack Obama issued an executive order requiring data disclosure of 1033 program disbursement and banned certain types of equipment. Two years later, former President Donald Trump rescinded that executive order.

Last May, President Joe Biden restored the original Obama executive order on the 1033 program and expanded the list of prohibited equipment.

Jake Shore

Jake Shore covers public safety and the courts system in Savannah and Coastal Georgia. He is also a Report for America corps member. Prior to joining The Current, Jake worked as a senior writer for the...