Snohomish County Sheriff benefits from Department of Defense 1033 program

In Hard news, Non-fiction on January 21, 2015 at 5:53 pm

A federal program that has fallen under recent national scrutiny is helping local law enforcement save lives

It was early December on Mount Pilchuck, the sun began to set, the air got cold and two young women hikers realized they were lost.

With no overnight gear– every breath visible – the women wondered what turn the night would take.

Then they heard the blades of a helicopter slicing through the dark quiet.

They pointed the only lights they had – the small flashlights on their cell phones – up in the air, and the pilot, equipped with night vision, located them on the first pass.

A rescue team was sent to retrieve them.

This is one of many instances where specialized gear – obtained through a special federal program that allows local law enforcement to obtain military surplus gear – has benefitted the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

The Department of Defense Excess Property Program (1033 Program) is authorized under federal law, managed through the Defense Logistics Agency’s Law Enforcement Support Office, to provide surplus military equipment to state and local civilian law enforcement agencies for use in counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism operations and to enhance officer safety.

In an inventory of 1033 property provided by the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services, all but a few counties in Washington have received surplus equipment from the program, from Shop-Vacs to grenade launchers to mine resistant vehicles. All they have to do is pay for the shipping.

Although the program has been in place since Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act in 1997, it has fallen under intense scrutiny of late, with many questioning what has been called the “militarization” of law enforcement could contribute to escalating tensions between police and the communities they serve.

“We are putting our efforts into maintaining a positive relationship with our community, rather than loading up with guns,” said Sheri Ireton, public information officer for the sheriff’s office. “We can’t stress that enough. Our deputies live and work here next to the same people they serve, and they want a relationship built on trust.”

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office has kept things fairly light. Their share of the property inventory covers only 20 rows in an Excel spreadsheet, and doesn’t contain anything particularly out of the ordinary: eight .38 special revolvers, two M16 rifles, four M14 rifles and four image intensifiers for night vision.

The list also includes a Hughes OH-6A observation helicopter.

Deputy Bill Quistorf, chief pilot for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, said his job would be more difficult without the benefit of gear obtained through federal programs like the 1033.

“We actually have two helicopters now,” he said. “For a few hundred bucks, we were able to obtain what would cost between $5-7 million new. Aviation is an expensive business for law enforcement to get into.”

Quistorf said although they no longer take the aircraft out for regular patrols due to budget cuts, the benefit of having eyes in the air have been immeasurable and have saved many lives.

“Both aircraft were in Oso during the post-landslide rescue operation,” he said. “There were eight rescues thanks to our choppers, which came from the 1033.”

The pilot said he was also in the air during the Marysville-Pilchuck High School shooting, poised to offer support to the boots on the ground.

“During the slide in Oso,” Quistorf said, “I personally briefed President Obama, senators Cantwell and Murray, Governor Inslee, Congresswoman DelBene, Department of Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson, and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, and I told all of them ‘we could not be the law enforcement agency we are if it weren’t for the 1033 program.’”


This article appeared in the Dec. 30, 2014 issue of Stanwood Camano News.

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