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, 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 have any place in civilian law enforcement.
"We can imagine no circumstances where it would be appropriate for a local police agency to put a bayonet on the end of a rifle," said John Crew of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Los Angeles 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 regulations will soon be in place to monitor transfers of excess military gear to the agency.
Nationally, 43,253 items originally valued at $204.3-million went to more than 11,000 law enforcement agencies in all 50 states over the one-year period, said a Defense Logistics Agency spokeswoman.
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.
No California law bars arming officers with knives or bayonets, said Ron Allen of the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. Most rules for arming officers are left to local jurisdictions.
California officers have received everything from fatigue uniforms and office equipment to helicopters, armored vehicles, body armor and night-vision gear.
"As long as it's not a cannon, they'll probably get it," said David Shaw of the state Criminal Justice Planning office, who determines whether requested equipment is appropriate for a department.