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Among nearly 800 M-16s to Arizona agencies, 13 to agriculture officers

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PHOENIX – Of the nearly 800 fully automatic M-16s Arizona law enforcement organizations have received under a Department of Defense program that gives away surplus military hardware, 13 have gone to a state agency better known for serving farmers and ranchers and protecting consumers.

A review of state-level data on the so-called 1033 program found the Arizona Department of Agriculture also received nine 12-gauge shotguns described as “riot type,” a term generally applying to shotguns with shorter barrels and larger magazines than those used by hunters.

Laura Oxley, a spokeswoman for the agency, declined a request to interview officials overseeing the weapons and their use or to comment herself on the acquisitions. She instead emailed a statement noting that the Department of Agriculture has “fewer than a dozen” officers certified by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board patrolling areas that are “mostly rural and frontier.”

The statement said officers who have undergone special training have M-16s as part of their standard-issue equipment.

The department’s 2012-2013 annual report notes its participation in the 1033 program and the acquisition of 13 M-16s. It also says officers were equipped with 10 “rifleman sets” – military-style backpacks that hold ammunition magazines, water bladders and other tactical gear.

“The rifleman sets greatly enhance the officer’s (sic) survivability if they ever find themselves on their own in the field and have a need (sic) water and equipment in one bag,” the report said.

The report lists the training status of nine certified officers. It also lists the efforts of an Office of Special Investigations where a supervisor and investigator “have gone through extensive training to investigate criminal and civil misconduct involving native plant theft and destruction; theft, killing and cruelty of livestock; illegal slaughter and processing of food animals; archaeological site destruction and theft of cultural resources.”

The report cites 45 cases of alleged criminal/civil violations opened involving native plants, livestock and food safety “of which 29 resulted in criminal referral.” It mentions “24 native plant cases that resulted in successful compliance,” as well as investigating three suspicious cases of livestock deaths involving six animals.