Sheriff’s Department makes ends meet with free surplus equipment


Big Horn County Sheriff’s deputies acquired a used, armored personnel carrier for free through a special federal program designed to place equipment not in use by the Dept. of Defense with law enforcement agencies in small communities. Courtesy photo
Big Horn County Sheriff’s deputies acquired a used, armored personnel carrier for free through a special federal program designed to place equipment not in use by the Dept. of Defense with law enforcement agencies in small communities.
Courtesy photo

Big Horn County Sheriff’s deputies will be sharing a newly acquired armored personnel carrier worth $683,000 with joint tactical response teams from sheriff’s departments in Washakie and Hot Springs counties. The beauty of it all, is that it isn’t costing the citizens from any of the three counties a dime to purchase the equipment, according to Captain Blaine Jolley.

Jolley acquired the piece of surplus military equipment from the federal government through a special program called the “1033 program.” The program makes used equipment available to authorized law enforcement agencies. The department gets free use of the equipment in exchange for maintaining it and making it available to the federal government, if needed.

Jolley has been taking advantage of surplus giveaway programs offered by both the state and the federal government for several years, acquiring everything from military-style water canteens to specialized military vehicles like the most recent acquisition. He has also used the programs to secure other free-for-the-asking treasures like Humvees for the Search and Rescue team, sleeping bags, hand shovels, generators and duffle bags. He’s even acquired weapons like pistols and M14s to add to the sheriff department’s arsenal.

Agencies acquiring surplus equipment through this resource are only required to foot the cost of picking it up and maintaining it. In the event that the equipment becomes too costly to maintain, the agency can just give it back, explained Jolley. Use of the equipment is subject to audit and, so far, the department has passed every audit with flying colors.

This latest piece of equipment, called an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected), is used to protect personnel as they are shuttled into a dangerous site involving massive small arms fire like a hostage situation or an ambush.

The three counties will share the cost of the equipment, which Jolley said should be minimal because the International Truck and Engine Corporation, the equipment manufacturer, makes parts readily available.

The MRAP was used strictly for training purposes at the military base in Fort Lewis, Wash., and never saw combat action overseas. Several deputies with military backgrounds have already been trained to use the equipment through their military service.

“Sometimes people ask why we need such a thing,” said Jolley. “I use Sandy Hook and the most recent incident in Colorado as examples of why we need this. And I ask, if it protects our citizens, officers and deputies and it’s free, why not?”

Jolley said he first starting securing the essentially free equipment through a state program. His contact through the state program taught him later how to secure equipment from the federal government.

Sheriff Ken Blackburn noted that a recent radio report that stated the equipment was purchased for more than $600 thousand dollars is false.

“We have gotten very good in Big Horn County at acquiring surplus property acquisitions and that property is free and we use it for the good of the county,” explained Blackburn. “For example, the semi-trucks that have camouflage on them that people see throughout the county were free for us to go pick up and drive back and they are currently being used by road and bridge. There are also front-end loaders out at the dump right now that were picked up for free and the Solid Waste District is using them. That’s the same way we acquired this armored personnel carrier. It was free for us to pick up and we took advantage of that.”

Blackburn said he hopes the tactical team doesn’t have the need for this type of equipment like they did approximately 15 years ago when a shooter barricaded  himself in a house in the county and deputies had to risk their lives to go into the dangerous situation. In that particular instance, the shooter spent more than six hours shooting at deputies, and patrol cars were riddled with bullets.

“This is a piece of equipment that protects our personnel, for free,” said Blackburn. “It is not a toy. It’s something that is available to us now and I hope we never have to use the dang thing. In fact, I pray that we don’t have to use it.

“People want to think that nothing wrong can happen in Big Horn County but the fact of the matter is that we’re just one snap away from a major incident, just like everywhere else. In the event that something like that were to happen, we want law enforcement to have the best possible equipment to deal with it.”

Blackburn noted that budgets are so tight in Big Horn County this year that he had to cut one deputy position.

“It’s great that Captain Jolley has taken the time to acquire these deals for us,” said Blackburn. “So far, he has acquired more than $2 million in property just for Big Horn County. It takes hours upon hours for him to search for this stuff and to do all the paperwork involved to get it for free. He does much of that on his own time, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning. That helps us do more with less.

“Captain Jolley has done an excellent job and a lot of it he is not compensated for. The work he is doing directly saves the budget in Big Horn County and we appreciate his efforts.”

by Patti Carpenter