Bayonets, weapons of deadly hand-to-hand warfare, have bolstered the arsenals of police in 23 states as part of a massive flow of surplus military gear. Now one of the nation’s biggest police departments, Los Angeles, says it was a mistake and it’s sending its bayonets back to the military.
More than 6,400 surplus bayonets, large knives that can be used separately or mounted on the end of rifles to be used like lances, went to law enforcement agencies between Oct. 1, 1996, and Sept. 30, 1997, according to the federal Defense Logistics Agency in Washington.
Some question whether military weapons, particularly bayonets, have any place in civilian law enforcement.
“We can imagine no circumstances whatsoever where it would be appropriate for a local police agency to put a bayonet on the end of a rifle,” said John Crew, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney.
The Los Angeles Police Department got 42 bayonets but is giving them back. After an inquiry by The Associated Press, the department conducted an investigation and concluded the acquisition of bayonets by a sergeant was inappropriate.
Cmdr. Rick Dinse said the bayonets are being sent back to the military because the department has no use for them. He said regulations soon will be in place to carefully monitor transfers of excess military gear to the agency.
Nationally, a total of 43,253 items originally valued at $204.3 million went to more than 11,000 government law enforcement agencies in all 50 states over the one-year period, said Tara Jennings-May, a Defense Logistics Agency spokeswoman.
The program began in 1990 with a requirement that agencies use the gear to fight drugs, but that rule was dropped with the expansion of the program, Jennings-May said.
The biggest number of bayonets went to North Carolina, followed by Connecticut and Indiana, the agency said. No detailed state-by-state list was available.
In California alone, more than $30 million in excess military hardware has gone - mostly free of charge - to more than 200 law enforcement agencies since November 1996, said David Shaw of the state Criminal Justice Planning office.
Los Angeles is one of eight California law enforcement agencies that acquired a total of 415 bayonets since May 1996, according to records obtained from the Governor’s Office of Criminal Justice Planning.
No California law bars arming officers with knives or bayonets, said Ron Allen of the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.
Officers also have received everything from surplus fatigue uniforms and office equipment to helicopters, armored vehicles, body armor, assault rifles and night-vision gear.
“As long as it’s not a cannon, they’ll probably get it,” said Shaw, who determines whether requested equipment is appropriate.
Most California departments that received bayonets said they would use them not on rifles but only as utility knives for jobs such as chopping marijuana plants.
“I don’t see them as stabbing or defensive weapons,” said San Joaquin County Sheriff Baxter Dunn, whose department got 75 bayonets. He said SWAT team members, besides using them as utility knives, might use them on the end of rifles but only to cut screens or pry open doors when storming a building.