Bay Area law enforcement must return military items to feds

Image 1 of 4

Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said he hopes the federal government will give a second thought to ordering police agencies return some surplus military equipment given out under a long-standing Department of Defense program.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office says it returned 159 assault rifles after the order. The agency says it was planning to give back the guns anyway.

Other military equipment they have, like armored vehicles, can be kept because they were attained under a different program.

Across the country, the Obama administration is taking back tracked armored vehicles -- similar in appearance to tanks but without cannons or guns -- grenade launchers, and bayonets from police agencies. The move is a result of an executive order last year aimed at demilitarizing police. Some of the orders to return the equipment have been received as recently as December.

A Department of Defense spokeswoman says they have not asked for rifles back, but several police agencies who spoke with FOX 13 said they returned the guns.

"I think if equipment's used properly it should be utilized and that's what I think needs to be evaluated as the feds go through this process," said Nocco.

Nocco says the equipment is increasingly needed when law enforcement agencies are often becoming the first and sometimes only defense against highly armed suspects.

"If there are terrorists or if there are criminals that have high-caliber weapons, the only people that are going to be able to get there in time is your local law enforcement. The military's not gonna be able to get here in time to protect our citizens. We're the only ones here," he said.

Nocco points to the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino in December as an example. He also says military vehicles are essential in weather emergencies.

"[They've] been used for Tropical Storm Debbie, the last storms that we had this past year to evacuate people and to rescue people," said Nocco.

In Polk County, Sheriff Grady Judd has returned a tracked vehicle, while the Pinellas County Schools Police returned 22 assault rifles obtained from the government's 1033 program, which once freely funneled excess military equipment to local law enforcement.

President Obama banned police from getting certain items after critics questioned the military-like response to protests in Ferguson, Mo. and other cities where use of force is being questioned.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify specific details about which items are being recalled.