Royalton, MN, police department possesses a grenade launcher it does not want or need
Not in Royalton, Minnesota
Royalton is a small town in central Minnesota, population 1,242. The police department has one full-time officer and two part-timers. Between them you'll find the standard cop gear: guns, vests, uniforms. But also a grenade launcher.
A tad excessive? Adam Gunderson, the chief of police, wouldn't disagree.
For years, surplus military equipment has trickled down to state, county, and local agencies as part of a free program offered through the U.S. Department of Defense. At least in the case of Royalton, that means equipment the town doesn't need.
Gunderson tells us that his grenade launcher -- intended to fire tear gas -- has languished in a safe for five years. It was included in a bundle of shotguns that the Clearwater County Sheriff's Office wanted to get rid of. Royalton, he says, accepted the little devil as part of an all-or-nothing deal. (The sheriff and one of his sergeants did not return our messages).
At the time, Gunderson says, the National Guard was in the midst of turning administration control of the program back over to the feds, so he couldn't simply return the grenade launcher. Today, he's waiting on paperwork to go through so that he can pass the weapon along to an agency "that's actually going to be able to use it."
Last week, the New York Times published data (obtained by MuckRock) showing that just about every corner of Minnesota has received some equipment from the feds. The newspaper broke down the numbers by county. However, the Star Tribune went further, showing which agencies received what. Reporter Mark Brunswick noted, "The Pentagon offers no training for these weapons. Some police departments admit to having few ready uses for them."
Indeed, when we called around last week, several agencies told us that much of the equipment remains in storage. Sgt. John Eastham, a spokesman for the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office, says 40 pistols go untouched and another 19 M14 rifles are used only for ceremonial events. What's more, the sheriff is "actively trying to decommission" the county's armored vehicle, because it doesn't work and getting it back into shape would cost more than it's worth.
Royalton doesn't need a grenade launcher, but the town's chief of police defends the right of law enforcement agencies to possess military hand-me-downs. "When you're dealing with criminals you're dealing with a whole other element," he says. "You don't know what they're capable of -- whether they have weapons or homemade explosives or whatever."
Of course, the program offers more than battle-tested instruments of destruction. Gunderson highlights more practical pieces of equipment that have come into his possession, such as cameras and refurbished laptops. For the sole cost of shipping, he gets computers that would normally cost $600 to $800 -- a savings for local taxpayers.
"I think the news media, with everything going on [in Ferguson], are just focusing on the military vehicles and weaponry," he says. "And that's not what the program is."
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