MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. - If you look closely, you can see the metal plates used to repair damage on the Brevard County Sheriff's Office water rescue helicopter.
More than 40 years ago, the Bell helicopter was shot down twice while flying missions in Vietnam. The U.S. military later used the aircraft during Operation Desert Storm.
"This one has a pretty cool history," said Lt. John Coppola, who acquired the helicopter for just $500. It is one of five working helicopters, along with five non-working aircraft used for spare parts, that the sheriff's office has obtained from the military since 1996.
The 1033 Program, run by the Defense Logistics Agency, allows local law enforcement agencies to acquire free surplus military equipment from the U.S. Department of Defense. The agencies pay a relatively small administrative fee to the program's state coordinator to receive the surplus items, which include clothing, electronics, weapons, and armored vehicles.
"We got the floats from the military," said Coppola, referring to the pontoons attached to the bottom of the water rescue helicopter. "Instead of being $9,000, they were 300 bucks. They were brand new."
Last year, Coppola ordered a part used in the helicopter's engine which originally cost the Pentagon nearly $30,000. He paid only $200 in administrative fees for it.
"I thought it was a bargain. If I could get my wife to shop like that, it would be great," joked Coppola. His operating budget for the aviation unit is about $187,000 a year, which is less than it would cost him to purchase a brand-new set of helicopter rotor blades on the commercial market.
The military surplus program also allows the sheriff's office to save approximately $50,000 a year on insurance. According to Coppola, it is more cost-effective to obtain replacement military helicopters than purchasing coverage for loss or damage to the aircraft.
"You can't get any cheaper than this to run helicopters," he said.
Besides aviation equipment, the Brevard County Sheriff's Office has used the Pentagon's 1033 Program to acquire a $20,000 power generator that can be used during hurricanes. The agency's cost was just $200. The sheriff's office has also picked up forklifts, microphone headsets, undershirts, and gloves, according to government records.
While searching the military's surplus website recently, Lt. Coppola found $150 work boots, which he obtained for $2 a pair. He believes the high-quality footwear will last much longer than the $8 boots worn by Brevard County jail inmates. The sheriff's office has acquired 250 pairs of boots from the military since last year, according to records.
Central Florida law enforcement agencies have received millions of dollars worth of heavy-duty combat equipment and weapons, including grenade launchers, pistols, and more than 1,000 M-16 rifles, according to Pentagon records. The military has also provided SWAT teams in Brevard, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, and Volusia counties with Tracked Personnel Carriers and armored vehicles, including some that are resistant to land mines. Bomb squads in Osceola and Polk counties use explosive ordinance disposal robots they obtained through the 1033 Program.
"I usually don't like some of the things the government does, but this happens to be one of the things the politicians and the government did right," said Coppola. "It's a good program."
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