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U.S. Police Have a Surplus of Tactical Gear. They’re Donating It to Ukraine.

Law enforcement agencies across several states will be donating dozens of pieces of body armor, such as ballistic helmets and vests, to Ukrainian citizens and military units. Ukraine, which was invaded by Russia on February 24, 2022, has an annual defense budget that is smaller than the New York Police Department’s.

State law enforcement agencies in Colorado and Vermont have announced that they will be donating defensive equipment to Ukraine. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said agencies were working to coordinate a donation of “used and expired body-armor vests to military units” under siege by Russian forces. The Vermont State Police also suggested private citizens donate their own body armor if it is rated Level III or higher by the DOJ or capable of stopping some rifle rounds.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Safety, the agency will donate “more than 80 sets of body armor and 750 helmets,” and is accepting donations from other Colorado law enforcement agencies. The department, along with others, is donating equipment that is no longer needed or has since been upgraded, such as vests stored in evidence facilities that are considered “beyond [their] life cycle.”

In Pennsylvania, the Falls Township Police Department has plans to send “52 ballistic vests, including 15 ‘military-grade’ vests” that can stop rifle bullets. Falls Township is also providing “battle dress uniforms” that can be used in “tactical or military situation[s],” in addition to boots, medical supplies, personal hygiene kits, and animal food. According to police chief Nelson E. Whitney II, the department is making its donations with the help of the Ukrainian Educational and Cultural Center in nearby Jenkintown. The center has been coordinating and flying donations from the U.S. to Poland every day, Whitney said in a statement to VICE News.

Since 1997, the Pentagon has supplied U.S. law enforcement agencies with “billions of dollars’ worth of equipment” through the 1033 program and the Defense Department’s Defense Logistics Agency and its Law Enforcement Support Office. This equipment includes small arms, aircraft, and tactical vehicles — in short, gear capable of defending populations under military siege during an actual war.

Although, in the past, police departments have donated gear to National Guard units being deployed, it is less heard of for donations to be sent overseas.

“Honest to God I have no idea how often this is done or who does it,” Chuck Wexler, a leading policing researcher who serves as the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, wrote in an email to VICE News.

Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman claimed that the Department of Defense and State Department “have asked the law enforcement community for equipment” to support Ukrainian resistance efforts. In a statement posted to Twitter, Sheriff Hoffman said his department would be sending “more than 340 expired ballistic helmets from [its] surplus inventory to DOD contractors.” He added that the Pentagon is looking to “supply more than 50,000 helmets and law enforcement supplies in the coming weeks.”

When reached for comment by VICE News, however, both the State Department and Pentagon denied asking law enforcement agencies to donate available equipment to Ukraine.

A spokesperson for the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office said Hoffman’s communications took place through a “third-party vendor” that was “vetted by DOD.” The vendor, Global Ordnance, is a Sarasota-based defense contractor and commercial arms and equipment distributor, that, in the past decade, has “won at least a half-billion dollars in Defense Department contracts,” according to the Treasury Department’s government spending tracker. In September 2021, the company signed a $500 million “cooperation agreement” with a Ukranian state-owned defense conglomerate.

Carrie Morales, vice president for human resources at Global Ordnance, told VICE News that the Pentagon did not request the equipment mentioned by Sheriff Hoffman, but donations were made on behalf of the company’s “humanitarian efforts.” In a recent blog post, Global Ordnance said it has partnered with local charity Pinellas Community Fund to send ammunition, arms, and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

Ultimately, the ability of U.S. law enforcement agencies to donate surplus tactical gear has raised concerns over “outsized resources” and the billions of dollars spent by state and local governments each year on policing. The World Bank estimated the Ukrainian military budget to be nearly $6 billion in 2020; the NYPD’s FY2020 budget was nearly $11 billion, according to the Citizens Budget Commission. Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg once said the NYPD was “the seventh biggest army in the world,” and recent Ukraine aid efforts do nothing to dispel this statement.

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