The old saying goes that charity begins at home. But that’s not what happened with an armored van that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department recently gave away.
The department apparently donated a SWAT armored vehicle to city of Ripon in the San Joaquin Valley — by mistake.
The accidental gift came to light this month after Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen read about it in the Manteca Bulletin newspaper.
Under county policies, supervisors are supposed to authorize such donations. Except, Nguyen doesn’t remember doing so. And she wants to know why other cities in Orange County didn’t get a chance to get the free SWAT van.
“Items like this belong to the taxpayers of Orange County, and I would have loved to have given that opportunity to a local city,” Nguyen said earlier this month. Nguyen has asked county staff to investigate and report back.
It looks like they basically made a mistake, officials said.
Robert Beaver, director of research and development, said that the armored car got mixed up in inventory, and when one department was trying to lighten its load, it was donated mistakenly.
The car — a F700 Ford – was donated in 2001 by a security transport company but had been sitting around since 2005.
In the smaller Northern California towns of Ripon and Manteca, Beaver said it would be used for SWAT teams. But it didn’t have enough armor for local SWAT standards.
The sheriff’s fleet management division thought the armored car had come through a federal program that allows local departments to get excess equipment for free. When departments are done with such equipment, they can essentially re-gift it to another without supervisors’ approval.
“Our fleet management group is always looking to reduce our fleet. We want to reduce costs,” Beaver said. “This vehicle was identified as a vehicle that wasn’t being used — only one mile per month. It was residing in San Clemente.”
“It needed to be surplused,” Beaver said because it didn’t meet the needs of the sheriff’s SWAT team.
Except the armored car hadn’t come from the feds. It was a local gift. And that means county supervisors were supposed to sign off.
“They didn’t realize they were crossing a line,” Beaver said.
Beaver said staffers are working to put together the necessary reports to make the donation legal. “We want to get this resolved as quickly as possible,” Beaver said.
–NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.