M16 rifles similar to the one in this stock image are among the items issued to police agencies with a presence in Carroll County through the Defense Logistics Agency’s Law Enforcement Support Office.
M16 rifles similar to the one in this stock image are among the items issued to police agencies with a presence in Carroll County through the Defense Logistics Agency’s Law Enforcement Support Office. (Getty images)

The majority of Carroll County law enforcement agencies have taken advantage of a Department of Defense program that offers surplus military equipment at no cost, including everything from weapons to office furniture.

The Defense Logistics Agency's Law Enforcement Support Office, managed through the Pentagon, has gained national attention in the wake of the use of force involving military equipment by local police in Ferguson, Mo., following the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown.

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In Maryland, the State Police is the agency that acts as a liaison with the federal government to process all requests from local agencies, according to spokesman Greg Shipley.

Records kept about current surplus equipment in the state do not break down the Maryland State Police by barracks, but Shipley said that there are 162 M16s statewide, 142 of which are assigned among 1,500 troopers. Shipley said that there are also 26 nonfunctional M14 rifles that are only used ceremonially.

The State Police have also obtained three Humvees through the program, used by the SWAT team and the Cumberland and McHenry barracks in Western Maryland, Shipley said.

"We, over the years, have been able to acquire millions of dollars of property from this surplus program," Shipley said, adding that the equipment is not all firearms-related.

The State Police have also obtained a washer and dryer, two refrigerators and 43 lamps from the program in the last year, according to the Maryland Property Book, which tracks equipment in use.

"There is a wide array of equipment," Shipley said.

The majority of the property in use by Carroll County agencies are M16s, which are primarily used as patrol rifles.

The Westminster Police Department has nine M16s, which Chief Jeff Spaulding said are rarely deployed and only designed for use in specific situations, such as an active shooter or armed robbery in progress.

"There are many instances where the criminals are armed much more heavily than the police," Spaulding said.

Cpl. Jonathan Light, of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, said there are currently 70 M16s in the agency's possession. The Sheriff's Office hopes to eventually equip the majority of its deputies with patrol rifles, he said.

Law enforcement officers have seen the need for more than standard-issue handguns for years as criminals have become more highly equipped, he said.

"The bad guys with body armor and patrol rifles are out there," Light said, citing incidents such as the 1997 shootout between bank robbers and police in Los Angeles and the Washington, D.C., sniper attacks in 2002.

The Sheriff's Office also benefits from federal grants, most of which became available after 9/11, Light said. Grants have funded the agency's mobile command center, armored car and bomb detection K-9, he said.

The Sheriff's Office makes requests based on the perceived threat, Light said, though the equipment is deployed infrequently.

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"The threat is there," he said. "It is around. You certainly can't decide that was something you needed after the fact."

For Westminster's patrol rifle program, Spaulding said M16s are altered to make them semi-automatic and two officers per five-officer work group are equipped. The goal is to have at least one to two officers on each shift trained to use them.

The training program for the rifles is run through the state and includes how to use the guns and guidelines for use of force, Spaulding said.

Spaulding said that since he became chief in 2004 and instituted the program, he does not recall an instance where the rifles have been fired in the field and they are very rarely deployed.

Westminster is not the only municipal agency on the list with M16s. Hampstead has five, Manchester has three and Taneytown has 12, according to the property list.

In addition, Hampstead has a trailer-mounted generator and Manchester and Taneytown have several 12-gauge shotguns, according to the list.

The generator in Hampstead was just acquired in May and Chief Ken Meekins said he envisions using it in an emergency where the town loses power. Meekins said his department has also requested first-aid kits from the program.

"We're looking to pick up equipment that might help us in a natural disaster," he said.

As for the patrol rifles, Meekins said he does have officers trained to use them because they could be used in an emergency when it could take too long to wait for outside assistance.

"Too many people die waiting for tactical," he said.

Meekins said his department hasn't been using the program for very long, but he will continue to look for supplies that could help the town.

"We're not looking for bazookas or tanks," he said.

Manchester Police Chief John Hess said the weapons were obtained prior to his arrival at the department in November 2013, and the patrol rifles have remained secured since none of his officers have been trained on them. Hess said his small department has coordinated with Westminster City Police to have officers trained this fall.

Because of Manchester's location, Hess said having a patrol rifle program could be helpful in an emergency because waiting for a tactical team from a larger agency could take too long.

"Hopefully, we won't need them but we'll have them if we do," he said.

However, Hess said that he does not see a need for larger military equipment like armored cars.

"I can't ever justify a need for that in Manchester," he said.

Taneytown Police Chief Bill Tyler did not return calls by 5 p.m. Friday seeking comment.

The Sykesville Police Department is the only agency in Carroll without any property on the list. Chief Michael Spaulding, who began his current post in May replacing longtime Chief John Williams, said it is most likely because the department has not found anything of use to request.

"We don't need any armed vehicles or things of that nature here," he said.

Due to the size of the Sykesville Police Department, there is limited storage space for supplies, Spaulding said. Also, for major operations, they are aided by the Maryland State Police or the Sheriff's Office.

Spaulding did say that he checked the property available for office furniture recently when the Sykesville department was looking to upgrade its squad room, but did not find anything to suit its needs.

"We do look at the website, and if we found something that could be of use we would certainly explore that," he said.

Reach staff writer Heather Cobun at 410-857-7898 or email heather.cobun@carrollcountytimes.com.

By the numbers

M16s issued to police agencies with a presence in Carroll County through the Defense Logistics Agency's Law Enforcement Support Office:

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State Police*162

Sheriff's Office70

Taneytown12

Westminster9

Hampstead5

Manchester 3

Sykesville0

Source: Maryland State Police Property Book

* Records kept about current surplus equipment do not break down the State Police by barracks.

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