MRAP optionCity council will consider vehicle at March 4 meeting
Washington Police Chief Greg Goodman said that the main thought of the city taking possession of a demilitarized armored vehicle from the U.S. government is to help save lives in the event of an emergency, but some members of the Washington City Council aren’t convinced it is the right tool for the job.
Goodman said that he began to consider acquiring an armored vehicle after the incident when Keokuk County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Eric Stein was shot and killed on April 4, 2011. According to a press release from former Keokuk County Sheriff Jeff Shipley, gunman Jeffrey Krier had opened fire on Stein, Shipley and another deputy. The release said that shotgun slugs disabled Stein’s Ford Explorer before Stein was killed when a slug went through the window of his vehicle and hit him in the head. Shipley and another deputy were pinned down by the gunman and, even after law enforcement from neighboring counties responded, were still under fire as they were removed from the area.
“It became apparent to me that we don’t have the availability of an armored vehicle in our area for rescue purposes,” Goodman said. “An armored vehicle in our area would be used for getting our officers to a location with the protection of an armored vehicle.”
Goodman acknowledged that incidents involving the need for such a vehicle are rare, but said that it only takes one tragic incident to make the possession of such a vehicle worthwhile. The military’s 1033 program offers surplus military equipment to law enforcement agencies.
The vehicle the police department will ask the city council for permission to receive during the council’s March 4 meeting is a six-wheeled Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle built by Caiman. The vehicle has been modified for civilian use. The top gun turret was removed and the vehicle was painted. Goodman said that the vehicle was reconditioned, so all the parts will be new. He said it is similar to a regular diesel truck with armor plating. He said the city mechanic will be able to work on it and, other than routine maintenance, he doesn’t believe the vehicle will be costly.
Goodman has cited other incidents in Washington County when an armored vehicle had been called for. He said the closest law enforcement armored vehicle is in Waterloo, which is about 2 1/2 hours away.
City council member Bob Shellmyer said today that he has received 19 e-mails from constituents concerned about the police taking possession of a military vehicle and said he definitely plans to vote against it. He provided articles expressing concern that law enforcement in the United States is becoming “militarized.” He also said that the police mindset, which should be to protect the community, should be different from the aggressive military mindset.
“Where does it end?” he asked. “What if we had a cyber attack? What would we get then?”
Nationally, the American Civil Liberties Union has expressed concerns about the “increasing militarization of the nation’s police forces” and that such a vehicle’s use could escalate violent encounters. In 2011, the 1033 program gave about $500 million worth of equipment to the nation’s law enforcement.
“I know there is fear out there of government takeover and that they are issuing these vehicles to work the military through the police,” Goodman said. ‘That is not their intention. That is not on my agenda. I do not believe in that at all. I think people know me well enough to know we have no intention of using this against our good citizens. We want to help our good citizens.”
Goodman said the $500,000 vehicle, including a projected $70,000 of costs to demilitarize it, would be free of charge to Washington other than the cost of retrieving it from a military base in Texas.
Council member Russ Zieglowsky also said that he is currently opposed to it, but said he is willing to listen to the argument for it during the meeting.
“I don’t know if it is cost effective,” he said. “I don’t want to stand in the way of public safety, but I think we are getting a lot of elaborate equipment that sits around and doesn’t do a lot.”
Shellmyer cited an example of city officials in Tupelo, Miss. that considered giving back a military helicopter the city had gotten from the 1033 program. The helicopter was used on about 10 missions per year and maintenance costs, without the costs of fuel, were over $54,000.
The MRAP gets about five miles to the gallon. The city will also have to cover the cost of maintenance and insurance.
Shellmyer also said there was a military Hummer in Wapello County, but he is unsure if it is armored.
Goodman said the possibility of charging other counties that call for the vehicle to help pay for the maintenance has been discussed.
Buena Vista County Sheriff Gary Launderville said that his department received an MRAP last fall. He remembers the day well, because it was received the day after Rockwell City police officer Jamie Buenting was killed during a standoff.
Since receiving the vehicle, Launderville said it has been used twice for high-risk entries. In both cases his deputies had been in rural areas dealing with armed subjects. He also said that his department has spent about $4,000 — funding from forfeitures — on the vehicle to install radio, computer, lights and GPS.
“I think that it has more than paid for itself,” he said.
Launderville also said it has been a good public relations tool, running in parades and being shown at displays.
Goodman stressed that it would not be used often. He said the vehicle would be reserved for high-risk situations.
“Do I believe it is going to be needed a lot? No,” Goodman said. “The thing is, when you need it, you need it. You have officers’ or citizens’ lives at risk and an armored vehicle can get you where a standard vehicle just can’t get you safely.”