By Aaron Kesel
For at least 12 years an off-the-books private police force operated at Norfolk, Virginia, Naval Shipyard according to findings by the Naval Sea Systems Command’s inspector general, spending an estimated $21 million in taxpayer’s funds, Federal News Radio reported.
The allegations stem from the year 2001 up until 2013, with more serious concerns among the investigators in 2009 when the base hired a new deputy security director.
“That’s the time where you start to see abuse of authority and preferential treatment,” Lintner said. “That’s when the big hiring glut started, but he wasn’t hiring security specialists. They were hiring friends from church, family friends, family members. None of the folks had a security specialist background, but there were a lot of folks with backgrounds as auxiliary police and auxiliary sheriffs, because he was trying to build up a police department. But unfortunately, there’s a big difference between what security specialists do and what police do.”
The investigation was conducted in 2014 but wasn’t disclosed. To date, none of the shipyard officials alleged to be involved in the illegal police force have faced any form of punishment or prosecution, despite the fact that millions of dollars in property remains unaccounted for because they retired.
The investigators say a group of unarmed security guards, whose job was to patrol the shipyard, began illegally purchasing firearms, boats, law enforcement badges, vehicles (complete with fake license plates) and an armored personnel carrier that they etched in the word “police.”
“The security department said, ‘Roger that,’ and then developed a license plate manufacturing plant in the shipyard, made their own plates and put those on the vehicles,” he said. “We also found boxes full of expired license plates that they had taken off of vehicles at DLA. Whenever they wanted to use a vehicle, they just slapped one on and off they went.”
In total, the group of rogue “police” obtained at least 92 vehicles and other equipment worth more than $4 million dollars including – a boat, Suburbans, Tahoes and Humvees, two tractor trailers, a backhoe, and a large bus.
The IG noted that none of the unregistered vehicles were insured and their drivers weren’t licensed to operate them.
The group then began to conceal the equipment they had bought. In one instance they hid a boat they purchased for $150,000 with a government card in a local shipyard that the team paid at least $206,000 to dock.
They also hid many other vehicles and equipment inside a remote warehouse on the edge of the base so officials tasked on the base with keeping an inventory of military armory wouldn’t find it.
“They drove all the vehicles out, loaded everything on the flatbed and stashed it in one of the back parking lots on the local naval base,” Lintner said. “When the asset manager got there it was literally an empty warehouse, but the day before it had been packed full of tools, vehicles, all types of material. They admitted they hid it deliberately. That’s what they said every time: ‘If anybody found out what we had, they would have taken it away from us and we wanted to be ready for any contingency.’ Their motto was, ‘It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.’
“None of that stuff is on an inventory, and it’s all highly-pilferable things,” Lintner said. “These are high-cost tools, night vision goggles, sniper scopes, and there was no accountability for any of it — it was literally spread throughout the shipyard. We were crawling through snake-infested fields to get into boxes where they had some of this stuff stashed. They had it in attics and basements. Anyplace where they could find to squirrel some of this stuff away, that’s where they put it.”
The IG estimated the private enterprise spent $10.6 million on labor and another $10.4 million on illegally purchased law enforcement equipment.
The kicker in all this is that it went through 7 commanding officials completely undetected for several years. Meanwhile, these guys could have been planning a coup of the base and been highly successful.
“These folks are not law enforcement, but they wanted to be, and all of their actions were done to become a law enforcement organization,” Peter Lintner, the deputy director of investigations at NAVSEA said. “The stunning thing is that this happened over the course of seven commanding officers, and not a single one of them put a stop to it or really even had any visibility on it. Everybody just thought, ‘Well, they’re the good guys. They’re the security department. They’re not going to do anything wrong.’ In actuality, they were doing everything wrong, and they knew it.”
Procedures in place at the time let any government employee shop through a lot of used Suburbans, Humvees and other vehicles, and drive off with one after presenting a letter of authorization from a superior and completing some paperwork. These regulations, or lack thereof, enabled the production of a private police force with military weaponry, but has since been tightened up, according to Lintner the publication reported.
I can’t help but think that these men might have watched too much of the movie Let’s Be Cops and got inspired to try to become police officers. In Virginia, under § 18.2-174 it’s considered a Class 1 misdemeanor to impersonate law enforcement, while a second or subsequent offense is punishable as a Class 6 felony.