The Cost of Free Stuff

For the past 10 years, the Department of Homeland Security has been handing out anti-terrorism grants to police departments around the country to buy armored tanks, robots, surveillance equipment, wild hog tagging, and so on. The  Homeland Security Grant Program, Transit Security Grant Program, Port Security Grant Program, Emergency Management Performance Grants, and eight other grant programs handed out $2.1 billion in 2011, a reduction of $780 million from 2010.

A recent spate of reports about the silliness of this anti-terrorism spending spree by local law enforcement – like Fargo, N.D. having no better use for its quarter-million dollar tank than as a prop at children’s parties – suggests the downward trend in available cash will continue.  The Tennesean reports today that the $192 million of equipment and information sharing systems bought with federal handouts will have to be maintained by local money.   In one county, a “pristine fleet that local officials believe is rarely matched anywhere, even in the big metropolitan areas, when it comes to unity under one roof and cross-training of responders” stands ready for water rescue, urban rescue, hazardous materials, and a “sustainment trailer” ready to provide 3 days of housing for a crew of 23.  The reporter notes that most of the equipment is rarely, if ever used, since “[t]here have been no international terrorist attacks in Tennessee since Sept. 11, 2001…”

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