Your local law enforcement agency could soon get a questionable new piece of equipment from the Pentagon — an 18-ton armored car.
The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles were designed to protect troops in Iraq and Afghanistan from insurgents’ homemade bombs, but now MRAPs are being given away to police departments in such communities as High Springs, Florida, population 5,350. The High Springs police paid the Defense Departments’ Law Enforcement Support Office $2,000 for an MRAP that originally cost taxpayers $600,000, a local TV station reported.
Even though the vehicles cannot be used in many places, around 165 MRAPs have been given away to police agencies all over the United States according to Fox News. The MRAPs were built for use in Iraq and Afghanistan, but since the Iraq War is over and the Afghan adventure is winding down, the US Army has been giving or selling the vehicles to local law enforcement agencies.
“It’s a cheap solution to a problem,” High Springs Police Chief Steve Holley said of the MRAP. Fox News reported that Holley’s “cheap solution” gets five miles to the gallon.
Holley claimed High Springs needs an MRAP to evacuate people in case of flooding. His argument is that the vehicle can drive through up to three feet of water.
Armored and Intimidating
“It’s armored. It’s heavy. It’s intimidating. And it’s free,” Sherriff Craig Apple of Albany County, New York, said of the five MRAPs his department has taken delivery of. It isn’t clear what Apple and his deputies will do with the MRAPs, because the vehicles are too big to drive on many roads and they have a tendency to tip over on rough ground.
MRAPs have already been used to serve at least one warrant in Boise, Idaho. Fox News reported that two of the vehicles were used to protect officers who were searching for bomb-making materials.
The most questionable entity with an MRAP is probably the campus police force at Ohio State University (OSU). The OSU police say they need an MRAP to deal with the rowdy crowds on football game days.
Police armored cars not funny to law enforcement critics
Even though the idea of small town police driving around in military armored cars might be funny to some, it isn’t very amusing to critics of police militarization.
“Instead of bringing soldiers in to do domestic law enforcement, we have allowed, and even encouraged, police officers to basically be armed like, police like, use the tactics of, be dressed like and adopt the mind set of these soldiers,” said journalist Radley Balko, the author of Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces. “And the outcome is just as troubling, I think, as if the military were actually doing domestic police themselves.”
Another critics of the idea is the American Civil Liberties Union.
“One of our concerns with this is that it has a tendency to escalate violence,” Kara Dansky of the ACLU’s Center for Justice said of the MRAP giveaway.
Pentagon giveaway to America’s police
The MRAPs are only the latest piece of military equipment being given to police by the Defense Department’s 1033 program. Police departments all over the country have been receiving free or low-cost armored vehicles, including tanks, for years.
The program has led to “rampant fraud and abuse,” Reuters columnists Michael Shank and Elizabeth Beavers discovered. In a special report the columnists called 1033 a flagrant waste of tax money. Some of their shocking discoveries included:
- At least one officer sold military weapons he had been given through the program on eBay.
- Some police departments actually lost military equipment and weapons, including AR-15 rifles, they had been supplied with.
- Some officers gave the military style weapons away to their friends.
- There was so much fraud and abuse that the Pentagon actually suspended distribution of weapons to police forces. The distribution of other pieces of equipment such as armored cars and helicopters continues.
- Some police agencies may have sold or auctioned off weapons to raise money for other purposes.