The town of Cary stocked up on 27 military rifles in 2006 as part of a federal program that transfers excess military equipment to law enforcement agencies.
The 1033 program launched in 1990 but recently garnered national attention after police in Ferguson, Missouri, used equipment received through the program in response to local protests.
Local law enforcement agencies can request and acquire specific equipment through the program without paying for it. The U.S. Law Enforcement Support Office recently released data showing surplus military equipment acquired by law enforcement agencies across the country.
Cary received 25 semi-automatic M-16 rifles and two automatic M-16 rifles, more than every law enforcement agency in Wake County. The rifles have a combined value of $13,743. Police officers haven’t fired the weapons in the line of active duty, said Cary Police Maj. Tracy Jernigan.
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Only one Wake County municipality, Wake Forest, used the federal program to acquire more expensive equipment. Wake Forest acquired an armored truck, worth, $65,070, and four semi-automatic rifles, for a total of $66,762, in three separate transactions between 2006 and 2012. Garner received 10 M-16 rifles.
Holly Springs received eight M-16 rifles that police soon discovered were too old to use, Holly Springs Police Chief John Herring said.
“It was going to cost us quite a bit to upgrade them, so we didn’t even issue them,” Herring said. “We’ve been trying for a year to return them, but haven’t been able to yet.”
Apex, Fuquay-Varina and Knightdale did not receive any equipment through the program.
Raleigh police and the Wake County Sheriff’s Office, which have purchased military equipment with their own funds, only have used the 1033 program for non-combat equipment, according to records. Raleigh’s police department has used the program to acquire a gun cabinet, gun rack, wire cages, a storage cabinet and graveyard registration kit, state and police department records show. The Wake County Sheriff’s Office only received cleaning swabs worth $157, records show.
Law enforcement agencies must file requests to the Law Enforcement Support Office to justify a need for equipment they want to receive from the program. Since the program began, it has focused on supporting counter-drug efforts. In 1997, it expanded its focus to include counter-terrorism efforts.
Cary is ranked as one of the safest towns in the country because of its low rate of murders and violent crimes, according to the FBI’s 2013 Uniform Crime Report.
But the town acquired rifles through the program in 2006 because police wanted to be better prepared for an increase in “heavily armed active shooter incidents” in public places such as schools, malls and businesses, Jernigan said. Police in Wake Forest, Garner and Holly Springs also cited worries about active shooter situations to explain why they sought military equipment.
Preparing for active-shooter situations
Though Jernigan said he couldn’t remember whether a specific incident prompted Cary to seek the rifles, he cited a 2005 mall shooting in Tacoma, Washington, and a school shooting at Orange County High School in Hillsborough in 2006 as examples of situations the town needs to be prepared for.
Jernigan also pointed to a report released last year by the U.S. Department of Justice that showed active shooter situations skyrocketing between 2000 and 2014.
Ninety-seven people, including suspects, died, and 194 others were wounded in 35 active shooter incidents across the country between 2000 and 2005, according to the report. The report says 389 people died and 363 wounded in 125 incidents between 2006 and 2013.
“Many of the suspects in these cases were armed with high-powered rifles and surplus ammunition, while many of our officers were issued handguns and shotguns,” Jernigan said in an email.
“The goal of obtaining this equipment at the time was to give our officers the ability to stop a shooter and minimize any loss of life as an event unfolded,” Jernigan wrote.
Each of the semi-automatic rifles has been assigned to an officer while the two automatic weapons are stored in a town vault, Jernigan said.
Cary police officers train with the rifles at least once a year, Jernigan said.
On Dec. 13, Cary police joined Morrisville police and the Wake County Sheriff’s Department in a training exercise at an office building near the Morrisville Outlet Mall where they simulated an active-shooter situation.
The rifles will be returned to the federal government when Cary no longer needs them, Jernigan said.
“Our focus at this point is to keep the rifles as long as possible,” he said.
The town isn’t likely to acquire more weapons through the program anytime soon.
The Federal Law Enforcement Support Office suspended North Carolina’s participation in the program in March after finding that some law enforcement agencies didn’t fully disclose the amount of military equipment they received through the program.
The federal suspension remains in effect through this month, when the state’s program will be audited.
Staff writers Mechelle Hankerson and Jonathan Alexander contributed to this report.