I-Team Exclusive Investigation: A Humvee -- for a school?
January 31, 2013 (CHICAGO) (WLS) -- Billions of your tax dollars have been spent on excess stuff the U.S. military has to give away.
Weapons of war are ending up in Chicago and the suburbs, far away from any battlefield.
Since June 2012 Illinois officials have tried to block release of information we've requested concerning high powered automatic weapons, armored battlefield vehicles and combat helicopters.
It's all equipment taxpayers paid for that is just being given away to local governments here and across the country.
From this humvee, now deployed at the catholic Benedictine University in Lisle to the Brookfield Zoo's arsenal of automatic combat rifles, anything goes from the over-stocked Pentagon.
"Short of a weapon of mass destruction, you can get any kind of military gear that's out there," the university's police chief Michael Salatino said. "We chose firearms and a vehicle."
Two M-16 rifles and a humvee were given to Benedictine by the Defense Department as military surplus.
Campus police transformed the humvee to a mobile command center to protect a 6500 student campus.
"It gives the community a sense that they're dealing with a professional law enforcement agency," Salatino said.
The $2.6 billion Pentagon program has a new promotional video to drum up interest.
It's called "LESO" for law enforcement support office.
Featured throughout the video are heavily armed Illinois law enforcement agencies including tiny Winthrop Harbor showing off its air fleet of military issued-helicopters.
The I-Team discovered that defense officials have sent $37 million in gear to Illinois law enforcement agencies despite the state agency in charge having denied us access to a full accounting of who got what.
They also blacked out the types of weapons, saying its a threat to homeland security.
In far north suburban Round Lake Park, the police department is fully outfitted by the LESO program equipment, from a Hummer used for patrols and SWAT deployments to an armored vehicle, a snowmobile, a segway and an ATV.
The department's 17 officers each have a military patrol rifle but they also have this battering ram.
"Somebody is not responding to the door, maybe an elderly person or somebody disabled, we may need to make entry into their home," Round Lake Park Police Department Chief Dan Burch said.
The Round Lake Park Police also have special forces night vision devices, an expensive digital evidence camera, a brand new Apple computer, two flat-screen televisions and even the carpet tiles on the floor came from the program.
"It very well could be a million dollars," Burch said. "It's a lot of money that the taxpayers of Round Lake Park did not have, would not and could not have been able to spend."
The village's police aren't hiding it. The humvee hand-me-down makes regular appearances in local parades.
Government watchdog group Common Cause is not impressed.
"It's my tax money, and it's my fellow citizens, we have to pay for this," the Executive Director of Common Cause Illinois Rey Lopez-Calderon said.
"This is the kind of thing, there's people right now, we're worried that they are going to lose their services, there's people right now on low income programs that are worried about financial budgets," he said.
Recipients of the weaponry, including Brookfield Zoo which obtained M-16 and M-14 combat rifles from the Pentagon, applaud the program.
A Brookfield spokesperson would not say how many guns they got but said zoo police are thankful that they are better able to protect the public, the animals and save money.
According to critics, the program would be unnecessary if defense officials better managed our tax money.
"They should be asking why do we have surpluses in these kinds of dollars? Is that something that could of, instead of buying these kinds of products or weapons, is that something that can go into Medicaid or one of the programs that's on the chopping block right now?" Lopez- Calderon said.
The I-Team will continue pressing Illinois Central Management officials for complete records of the weapons they doled out.
Some of what the pentagon has given away is missing, including body armor and night vision goggles issued to the Chicago Police Department, marked in the records as "unable to locate."
There was so much gear missing from this program, unaccounted for across the nation, that in the summer of 2012, the Pentagon suspended distribution of weapons.
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