A Blog by Jonathan Low


Mar 11, 2022

US Police Depts Have So Much Gear, They're Sending Surpluses To Ukraine

We are not asking why suburban and small town US police departments thought they might need armored personnel carriers or body armor and helmets, but merely celebrating their generosity and public spirit in turning a lot of this equipment to the Ukrainian army where it will almost certainly be put to more immediate use. JL 

Paul Blest reports in Motherboard:

Ukraine's annual defense budget is smaller than the NYPD’s. The Ukrainian military budget was $6 billion in 2020; the New York Police 2020 budget was $11 billion. Since 1997, the Pentagon has transferred billions of dollars worth of small arms, aircraft, and tactical vehicles to 8,000 U.S. law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement agencies in several states have announced they’re donating dozens of pieces to Ukraine. The Falls Township, PA Police, which has 53 officers is sending 52 ballistic vests. The Colorado Department of Public Safety is donating 80 sets of body armor and 750 helmets.

Police departments around the U.S. are donating tactical gear to Ukraine, whose annual defense budget is smaller than the NYPD’s.  

Law enforcement agencies in several states have all announced in recent days that they’re donating dozens of pieces of body armor, such as ballistic helmets and vests. Some of the departments and their respective local partners—one of which is a top defense contractor with U.S. and Ukrainian government contracts—say the donations will be distributed to Ukrainian citizens under siege by the Russian military.

State law enforcement agencies in Colorado and Vermont both announced Wednesday that they were donating defensive equipment to Ukraine. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said the state’s policing agencies were “coordinating an effort to donate used and expired body-armor vests to military units in Ukraine,” and the Vermont State Police also encouraged members of the public to donate their own body armor as long as it’s rated Level III or higher by the Department of Justice’s research arm—capable of protecting against some rifle rounds, in other words.

The Colorado Department of Public Safety said it was donating more than 80 sets of body armor and 750 helmets, and that it was accepting donations from other law enforcement agencies in the state. “This is equipment that we are no longer able to use because it is beyond life cycle, or in some cases it may have been replaced or upgraded by some equipment that maybe better fits our needs or is safer,” Colorado DPS spokesperson Patricia Billinger told local station KARE9

In Pennsylvania, the Falls Township Police Department, which has 53 sworn officers and is situated about 40 minutes north of Philadelphia, is sending 52 ballistic vests, including 15 “military-grade” vests capable of stopping rifle bullets, although they’re no longer under warranty, according to Falls Township police chief Nelson E. Whitney II.


“We took 45 vests from the back [of the department’s evidence facility],” Whitney said. “I looked through my basement, and I found a couple I had from over the years, and other officers did the same.”

The department is also providing “battle dress uniforms” (BDUs), or non-traditional police uniforms marked for SWAT teams or hazardous weather events. Whitney said they’re “more typically used in a tactical or military situation than everyday law enforcement.”

Whitney added the department is also sending boots, medical supplies, personal hygiene supplies, and animal food. 

The department decided to coordinate donations after a request from one of their officers whose wife is Ukrainian and still had family there. The Ukrainian Educational and Cultural Center in nearby Jenkintown, is coordinating the donations and flying supplies from the U.S. to Poland every day, according to Whitney. 

The city of Yonkers, New York, also announced last week that its police department would donate 40 ballistic vests and 50 tactical helmets, largely to help the Ukrainian population in Yonkers and Westchester County, according to Christina Gilmartin, communications director for Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano. 

The ballistic vests, the city said, were all out of commission and are rated a minimum of Level II—meaning they’re designed to protect against all handgun rounds, according to online tactical gear retailer Bulletproof Zone. The helmets Yonkers is donating were made specifically for riot control.


“The war in Ukraine is bearing down unbelievable tragedy upon the Ukrainian people, and the Yonkers Police stands united with them,” Yonkers police commissioner John J. Mueller said in a statement accompanying a press release announcing the donation. “It is our hope that this donation helps in the defense of their homeland.” 

The donations are being handled by the Westchester County chapter of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, which didn’t respond to a request for comment. Asked if the city was planning to send firearms and ammunition to Ukraine as well, Gilmartin responded: “Not at this time.” 

That U.S. police departments have gear capable of protecting people during a war is not surprising. Since 1997, the Pentagon has transferred billions of dollars worth of equipment—including small arms, aircraft, and tactical vehicles—to more than 8,000 U.S. law enforcement agencies through the 1033 program and the Defense Department’s Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and its Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO). 

But while it’s not completely unheard of for police departments to donate tactical gear—in 2004, North Carolina police departments donated 1,500 bulletproof vests to a North Carolina National Guard unit that was deploying to Iraq—it does appear to be unusual, particularly to donate the gear overseas.


“Honest to God I have no idea how often this is done or who does it,” Chuck Wexler, a leading policing researcher who serves as the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told VICE News in an email.  

One sheriff claimed in an announcement that the federal government, including the Department of Defense and State Department, were soliciting donations for Ukraine from state and local law enforcement.Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt Hoffman announced last week that his department would send more than 340 expired ballistics helmets that would otherwise be destroyed to a Pentagon contractor, which would then send them to Ukraine. 

“Many of our Department of Defense (DOD) and State Department contacts have asked the law enforcement community for equipment to help the Ukrainian people push back against this violence and protect their citizens,” Hoffman said on Twitter.

He added that the Pentagon is attempting to “supply more than 50,000 helmets and law enforcement supplies in the coming weeks.”

The State Department and Pentagon, however, both flatly denied asking U.S. law enforcement to contribute equipment to Ukraine. 

A State Department spokesperson told VICE News in an email Friday the department “has made no such request.” A Pentagon spokesperson told VICE News in an email Thursday: “We are aware of no such requests from the Department of Defense.”

A Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson later told VICE News that Hoffman hasn’t actually spoken with the Pentagon, but rather that “all communication has been verbal through a third-party vendor that has been vetted by DOD.”


That vendor is a Sarasota-based Global Ordnance, a defense contractor and commercial arms and equipment distributor, whose sales reached nearly $200 million in 2020.  Along with its subsidiary Global Military Products (GMP), the company has won at least a half-billion dollars in Defense Department contracts over the past decade, according to USAspending.gov, the Treasury Department’s government spending tracker. The company also signed a “cooperation agreement” with Ukrainian state-owned defense conglomerate Ukroboronprom last September worth up to $500 million. 

Global Ordnance vice president for human resources Carrie Morales told VICE News that the equipment wasn’t requested by the Pentagon, but that the company has “a lot of people in Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe” and that the donation is part of the company’s “humanitarian efforts.”


The company’s president is Marc Morales, a veteran military supplier. Before he started Global Ordnance in 2013, however, Morales and 21 other executives and employees of military and law enforcement contracting firms were indicted on federal charges of attempting to bribe an undercover FBI agent posing as the defense minister of Gabon. The Justice Department ultimately dropped the charges in 2012, for a variety of reasons, including excluded evidence and the resources necessary to prosecute.

The company said in a blog post last week that it’s working with the Pinellas Community Fund, a local charity, to send aid to Ukraine, and that the company has “facilitated delivery of ammunition, arms, humanitarian aid, and are continuing to work day and night to help the Ukrainians fight for their freedom.”

Aside from the involvement of a defense contractor, the donations raise questions about the outsized resources afforded to U.S. police agencies. State and local governments in the U.S. spent $123 billion on policing in 2019, or nearly 4% of their general expenditures, according to the Urban Institute, a left-leaning think tank

The Ukrainian military budget was nearly $6 billion in 2020, according to the World Bank; the New York Police Department’s FY2020 budget in 2020 was nearly $11 billion, including a $5.6 billion operating budget and $5.3 billion “centrally allocated” budget including pensions and fringe benefits, according to the nonprofit Citizens Budget Commission. 

“I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world,” former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg once joked.


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