Do We Really Need Tanks And Surveillance Drones To Police North Dakota?


Republican Senator Tom Coburn is great about releasing reports from his office detailing the waste of our tax dollars. His most recent report takes a long, hard look at Homeland Security spending. The full report is here, but below is an excerpt talking about some wasteful spending here in North Dakota.

The Fargo Police Department purchased, with federal Homeland Security funding, what amounts to a tank (minus the big gun). This despite Fargo’s very low crime rates (by national standards). What has this very expensive piece of equipment been used for so far? Training exercises, and an appearance near a bounce house at a city picnic.

Reports found that Fargo, North Dakota, received more than $8 million in homeland security
grants, which is significant considering its local crime record. Fargo, a town which “has averaged fewer than 2 homicides per year since 2005” bought a “new $256,643 armored truck, complete with a rotating [gun] turret” using homeland security funds.

Fargo Police Lieutenant Ross Renner acknowledges that Fargo “[does not] have every-day threats here when it comes to terrorism.” It is for this reason perhaps that as of December 2011 the vehicle was only used for “training runs and appearances at the annual Fargo picnic, where it’s been displayed near a children’s bounce house.”


This actually made a lot of news late last year – nationally, not so much locally – but it’s worth mentioning again what with the Grand Forks Sheriff’s Department obtaining a license for a surveillance drone (how much is that costing?). All of which makes me think we’re going a little bit overboard in militarizing small-town police departments.

Militarizing Mayberry, so to say.

Do we really need tanks and surveillance drones to police North Dakota? It’s not only a question of spending – our bankrupt federal government shouldn’t be shelling out this stuff – but a question of need and mission creep.

What’s scarier than the fact that they’re buying this stuff is the idea that they might start actually using it.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Thresherman

    They will probably be used to enforce the smoking ban.

    • the Fighting Czech

      Not to mention to help squash the riots after all the lefties’ free Obamaphones are confiscated, and SNAP will only get you 1 box of potato flakes, and a 2 cans of Spam a month.. because the government decided (with the help of same useful idiots on the street) The government needs the money more then we do…

      • WOOF

        If the gov’t didn’t like grandma’s 200 minute a month phone, they’d turn it off. Ponder the use of armored vehicles, drones and second amendment codicils.

        • Rob

          The 2nd amendment is an individual right to keep and bear arms, and has nothing at all to do with the militarization of law enforcement.

          After all, the parts of America with the strictest gun control laws also see the most gun crime.

          • WOOF

            Now “The 2nd amendment is an individual right to keep and bear arms,” before not so much. Rights are interpreted by the times. terrorists have very few.

    • Rob


  • awfulorv

    Policemen are, in reality, childhood bullies, fond of pastry, who’ve grown up and are now allowed to wear impressive uniforms, which facilitates their self importance, and bullying. And as children are wont to do, they enjoy playing with new toys, though they may call them something else, with more impressive names. However, on reading this morning about California’s monumental problem of retirees, including police, firemen, doctors, palm readers, Profilers, all types of government employees, accumulating sick leaves until retirement, and then leaving with huge checks for the unused time, I’d say there are other, much more important, issues to be dealt with.

    • Rob

      I don’t think that’s fair. I think law enforcement is as prone to bureaucratic bloat as any other department of government, but we needn’t insult the officers.

      My dad was a cop for decades and certainly wasn’t like that.

      • camsaure

        There is also law enforcement in my family, and yes not all cops are like that. But there certainly are some, and sometimes they are able to corrupt the whole department. Grand Forks is a prime example of that from back in the 70s and 80s. Sherrifs dept are usuall less prone to this as sheriffs are elected and usually do not want their dept to suffer from the “us vs the public syndrome”.

      • awfulorv

        Of course they’re not all as I’ve described, and some of them are rather innovative, as these in Vallejo, Calif. certainly were. Officers there, at the behest of wives in the throes of divorce proceedings, and in order to influence the presiding judges, hired hookers to get their husbands drunk in bars, and then arrested them on DUI charges while they were leaving the parking lot. Of course they’re not all bad apples, but an average of, let’s say, seven straight arrows out of a hundred, is not enough to change this observers opinion of them.

        • Neiman

          Fyi – a disproportionate number of officers in Vallejo are cheap Gestapo type thugs. I live 20 minutes from there.

          • The Whistler

            How do you know they’re cheap? Never mind. I don’t want to know.

          • Neiman

            I believe it is qualitative.

  • downwiththeoldguard

    Oh, come on, we know that with power there is never corruption! These things will only be used for checking for people fishing without a license and stuff like that. The fact that they can see through walls has nothing to do with them actually using that technology. Heck, we should feel as safe as could be with all these police state weapons guaranteeing our right to privacy and upholding our freedoms. They are even adding to the beauty of nature with them because they come in hummingbird size, mosquito size, and many more inconspicuous sizes to not disturb us while making sure we don’t do……….erm while making sure we are all safe inside our little dwellings.

  • WOOF

    The military weapons community is just expanding their markets.
    You wouldn’t want to constrain free markets and jobs for retiring Generals?

  • JW-USA

    It seems silly that they spent $1/4 mill on basically an Ford F450 with a steel body on it, so setting that aside, it wouldn’t be to extreme to have at least one unit like it in the region to help with western MN and Eastern ND.

    But here comes the butt, if they can redeploy that drone from Border Control, why not just call the Local National. Guard bases and use one of their armored Vehicles if they ever have a case of some wack job taking pot shots at patrol cars.????

    They seem to be ok using the tracked ones during a blizzard event out on the highways, those Bradly’s will take a bunch more abuse than that F450 will.

    Someone flipped though the Christmas catalog of Federal Grants and said, Hey that looks cool, lets be the first to apply so they can park it in our garage.

  • dlao

    Of course they need this stuff. The average citizen may be carrying a hand gun. Look at the swat teams, they all look and act like they are navy seals. And don’t forget the hard working bureaucrats who can now tell their constituents what a great job they are doing for them.

    • The Whistler

      Yeah, well when I was a kid I had a cowboy holster rig with twin six shooter cap guns so I can relate to these guys.

  • kevindf

    How much does it cost those of us in the private sector to maintain these toys for those lucky enough to be on state and municipal payrolls?