In his 13 years at the Village of Centre Island police department, Michael Capobianco hasn’t needed the M-14 rifle the department acquired in 2011 through a Pentagon program that shifts surplus military-grade equipment to local law enforcement agencies. But he says it is something the department could need in the future to help protect the community, population 410.
“We actually didn’t have any long guns in this department,” said Capobiano, who has served as the eight-person department’s chief for the last six years. “We wanted to put that with the rest of our firearms.”
In recent years, Long Island law enforcement agencies have obtained $7.2 million in equipment -- everything from wrenches to armored trucks -- through the Department of Defense's Excess Property Program, also known as the 1033 program, according to an inventory released earlier this month by state officials.
Next to the New York State Police, which received $4.2 million in gear, the Nassau and Suffolk County police departments were the second- and third-biggest recipients, respectively, out of 128 beneficiaries statewide.
Nassau police have gotten $3.9 million in equipment -- ranging from goggles, 130 laptops, a bus and an MRAP, or Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle.
Suffolk police, meanwhile, have been given $1.6 million in military-grade products, including heavily armored trucks, diesel generators and a forklift.
Overall, 19 Long Island agencies received about a quarter of the $28 million statewide total.
The 1033 program has doled out more than $5 billion in equipment since its inception in 1997. It has come under scrutiny after standoffs between protesters and heavily armed police in Ferguson, Missouri, after the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer. President Barack Obama has ordered a review of the program, and critics say it militarizes local and state police agencies.
A Nassau police official wasn’t available for comment Friday. But in an August Newsday story, Nassau Chief of Department Steven Skrynecki said his department has strict protocols about the use of its acquired military equipment, and that it is exclusively used for search and rescue, responses to natural disasters, terrorism or when there are shooting situations.
Suffolk police said in a statement that “the majority of the Department’s 1033 surplus military equipment was obtained to prepare for and respond to storm-related events and not for response in tactical operations like riot control or SWAT incidents.”
SUNY Old Westbury’s police department received three M16 rifles and a Humvee. The campus’ chief of police, Michael Yanniello, said three staff members authorized to use the equipment each went through an elaborate three-day training course and earned certain qualifications as part of a program they completed in the past several weeks.
The goal, he said, is to be prepared for potential shooting situations on campus.
“Since most active-shooter situations have the life span of 10 or 12 minutes, the faster the officers can get to the area with the ability to stabilize the threat, common sense would say that there will be the less casualties” with the equipment acquired through the 1033 program, he explained. “I feel comfortable that we would at least be prepared.”
Two other state universities -- Morrisville and Oneonta -- also obtained one utility truck and three assault rifles.
On the East End, the Town of Southampton was provided dozens of items worth a total of $193,000 -- most notably two armored trucks (one will be used for parts) and a Humvee.
Sgt. Susan Ralph said the eight-person armored truck will be used by the town’s Emergency Services Unit.
“God forbid we have a mass shooting or something,” Ralph said, adding that the Humvee will be used in cases of heavy storms for evacuations.
“If it’s flooded in an area, we’re not going be able to get to someone if we need to” with the town’s Ford Taurus patrol cars, she said.
Ralph added the Humvee “would have come in handy during the snowstorms” earlier this year.
The Quogue Village police department obtained a Humvee and cargo truck in September worth a combined $154,500 that Lt. Chris Isola, the agency’s executive officer, said “greatly enhance” the department’s ability to patrol and evacuate people from flood-prone areas in emergency situations.
After superstorm Sandy in October 2012, he said a Chevrolet Tahoe was totaled and a Ford Expedition needed extensive repairs due to their use in patrolling areas in standing saltwater for more than a week after the storm.
In the past, if flooding was more than 2 feet high, Isola said fire trucks would be called in.
“It doesn’t make sense to put those specialty vehicles through that type of abuse, whereas these military vehicles were designed for that,” Isola said.
Isola said the agency’s Humvee and cargo truck will be painted white like other Quogue police vehicles and that they will be “as demilitarized as they need to be.”
Regarding concerns about police militarization, he said, "The police departments are not militarizing. They’re putting to use equipment that still has life in it.”
On Centre Island, Capobianco said the police force has yet to be trained in how to use the agency’s M-14, “but plan to be trained on it in the future.”
“I guess people who are not in law enforcement may scrutinize” the 1033 program, he said, but “it’s great that the government opens up these tools.”