Making Equipment Disposal Decisions

Cops like stuff. We are always looking for the newest, coolest, and most effective tools. We’ve gone from control devices like the simple baton to the electronic taser, and from simple wheel guns to high capacity semi-automatic pistols. The sheer number of available options for common law enforcement tools like radios, flashlights, and optics are overwhelming. Besides just “liking new stuff” there is a legitimate reason the modern day professional law enforcement officer wants the best and most effective tools; their lives may depend on it. Most of us carry two guns and we never have enough ammo. Staying in front of that reactionary curve, to the “left of bang” if you will, could mean the difference in a use of force situation.

Cutting-edge equipment can aid an officer in achieving a tactical advantage. Law enforcement equipment, though, has a way of becoming stockpiled and obsolete, unused, and often even unaccounted for. I recently heard a story about a police agency that came upon an old radar unit from the 1970’s, a Kustom Signals MR-7 (that I operated in my patrol days)! It had been accumulating dust on a shelf in the station for almost 40 years! In law enforcement we are good at accumulating a lot of “stuff”, but not as good about disposing of it when it’s unneeded or becomes obsolete. It tends to be part of most departments’ mindset that someday the piece of equipment might be of use, so off onto a storage shelf it goes.

Responsible departments and agencies periodically conduct a functional inventory that allows them to document their equipment on-hand, in-use and in-reserve and identify when it’s time to replace and/or reduce inventory of specific equipment. Addressing equipment disposal as part of inventory maintenance activities relieves departments of the responsibility of accounting for items that are no longer needed or used. It also may allow another agency or department to put the equipment to good use. Perhaps most importantly proper equipment disposal procedures prevent law enforcement equipment from getting into the hands of the bad guys! Frankly, as stewards of taxpayer dollars, routinely managing equipment disposals is also the responsible thing to do.

Inventory disposal decisions can’t be made in a vacuum by property personnel. The unit, person, or organization that the equipment or material was procured for and put in service to support must be involved in the decision to remove it from inventory. Once the decision has been made to remove equipment and/or material from inventory, the department should evaluate if a service life extension is an option. An item procured for operational deployment may have its service life extended by use in a training environment. Vehicles, for instance, are major expenditures for departments and often have only a two year or less service life in patrol. These vehicles, however, continue to be viable assets for other units such as investigations and training, and often can be used by other governmental offices such as public works. Excess material that has exceeded its “use by” date, such as ammunition and O.C. spray, can often be used in training environments. Rather than dispose of outdated equipment many firearms manufacturers offer excellent incentives to departments wanting to transition to a different firearm. These opportunities allow an agency that may not otherwise have the financial resources to purchase new firearms the ability to do so.

Departments and agencies will arrive at the decision to trade, transfer, and/or dispose of equipment and material they no longer need, however, there are laws and regulations that may provide restrictions on how and to whom agencies can release government purchased items. It is also important to know how the equipment or material was purchased-- whether through direct budgeting, grants, military law enforcement support, or even forfeiture-- as each of these will have their own guidance on transfer and disposal. Various regulations (and sometimes laws) on the disposal methods also exist for specific equipment. Prior to disposing of property or material by a department or agency the department or agency should perform a thorough review of all applicable laws and regulations.

An agency must keep accurate records on how they procure, use, maintain and ultimately dispose of its property. One the principles of IACP President Chief Louis M. Dekmar’s presidency is public trust. Accurate and responsible management of a department’s property throughout its life cycle demonstrates fiscal responsibility entrusted to law enforcement by the public it serves.

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