The recent unrest in Furguson, MO has raised questions about the use of surplus military equipment by local police forces. Several months ago, The New York Times obtained from the Pentagon a list of where excess military equipment given to state and local law enforcement ended up.
The Times used the data it in a few articles, but they also released the data on a GitHub account. It’s amazing how rare it is for a news organization to release the raw data behind its stories, even though the data is technically public once released. I praise the Times for this, and I really hope to see more of this from them and that other news organizations follow their lead.
And if they put the data out there, we have to use it right?
At I Quant NY, I usually look at New York City data, but in this data set there was not much to be found. The city received two items: An Armored Truck (worth $65,000) and a 107 mm Mortar (worth $205,000). You do not want to be on the receiving end of that thing. NYC has the largest police force in the country, and so they likely have purchased a lot of their own equipment. Those purchases would not end up in this data set, and so we can’t use it to see much about the cities equipment.
Since the city data did not give me much to analyze, I decided to explore the distribution statewide. After all, the site is not called I Quant NYC.
The map below shows the total number of dollars in military supplies sent to each county in New York State between 2006 and mid-2014 under the Defense Department’s 1033 program:
About 25 million dollars in supplies were distributed throughout the state. And which county topped the list? Albany. That was followed by two counties bordering New York City, Nassau and Westchester, which are two of the most populous counties in the state outside the city (only behind Suffolk). It might make sense that more populous counties need more police resources, but that does not explain Albany’s position. The table below shows the distribution of equipment, as well as a value normalized per numbers of residents in the county.
Even on a population adjusted basis, Albany is still in the top three recipients. But the most dollars of equipment per resident went to Hamilton and Clinton counties.
Given that, I was curious to learn what all this equipment was, so I looked at the equipment which cost the most in aggregate:
The state as a whole received lots of vehicles, but also 55 night vision goggles and one half-a-million dollar “combat/assault/tactical” vehicle that found its way to Broome County. So keep yours eyes peeled for that Binghamton! And that’s not to mention the eight mine resistant vehicles that went to 8 different counties, and the 293 military rifles (Either 5.56mm and 7.62mm).
Digging in on specific equipment per county, it turns out that a mine resistant vehicle and 4 trucks propelled Hamilton County to the top of the per resident list, and two trucks made tiny Clinton County, home to less than 5 thousand people, second. What made Albany number three on a per resident basis? Well, 98 rifles, 4 utility trucks, 49 pairs of night vision goggles, a mine resistant vehicle, an air plane and a helicopter probably helped.
As a reminder, the data does not show what equipment goes to state vs local law enforcement, so it’s not clear where this is all ending up. But what is clear is that our state capital made out pretty well in all of this. So one thing is for sure. The next time there is a Battle of Saratoga, we know one neighboring county who can help out! (Especially if the battle is at night.)