MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer
HELENA A military program to give free equipment to police has outfitted Baker police officers with M-16s, granted the Butte-Silver Bow police some new trucks and even allowed the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to get three helicopters. Police say the Defense Department program lets them get equipment they wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. In Montana, records show 19 agencies took advantage of the freebies totaling more than $1 million. Baker Police Chief Randy Ketterling said they got a few M-16s for officers to have in their cars in case of emergencies, along with some backup handguns. “They’ve allowed us to have weapons that we would not have been able to afford if we had to go out and purchase them,” he said. “I think it’s a great program.” State wildlife managers received three surplus helicopters through the military program. The helicopters are used to plant fish in high mountain lakes and survey game, said spokesman Ron Aasheim. The helicopters would have cost the agency at least $200,000 each if they would have had to buy them, he said. “It certainly saved us some money,” Aasheim said. “It allows us to do some of the things we need to do.” The Defense Department’s giveaway program started in 1990 to transfer surplus military parts to police for antidrug and anti-terrorism work. Its mission was later broadened. Butte-Silver Bow Police Capt. George Skuletich said his agency also got some M-16s, but ended up returning them in favor of getting rifles compatible with others used by their agency. But he said they did get a Ford fourdoor pickup truck to haul evidence and perform other chores, and a Ford Explorer that they use to tow a special trailer to crime scenes and for tactical operations. In both cases, the police department just had to pay the cost of shipping the trucks. “They were great deals,” Skuletich said. The Montana police academy saved more than $100,000, said administrator Kevin Olson. The agency, run by the state Department of Justice, has received a number of vehicles, including a tow truck, a dump truck and a road grader to help maintain its campus. In some cases the trucks required some maintenance to get them running at first, but they have worked perfectly since, Olson said. “There is no way financially we would be able to acquire these vehicles,” he said.