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Dan Sharp: I used MRAPs in war – why does a small US police force need one?

The Marine Corps is celebrating a decade of keeping warfighters safer against explosive devices with the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected family of vehicles. MRAP vehicles are designed to provide protection against underbody mines, improvised explosive devices, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Lynn Kinney)
July 09, 2020

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Recent times have forced us all to take a hard look at the way our nation polices its citizens. Here is one example of an area the police departments can take a closer look while they continue to serve and inspire our community.

Policing from an armored truck

Moundsville, W.V. is a town of just over 8,000 residences. As you would imagine, if someone received a new vehicle worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, the news would spread fast. It may surprise you to learn the police department was in fact the new owner of such a vehicle.

This left many, including myself, wondering why this was necessary. The city of Moundsville received a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle for free through a government program designed to distribute surplus military equipment to police departments who request them. The MRAP was designed to withstand blasts from roadside bombs. A baseline model can cost anywhere between $300,000 and $550,000. However, there were reports this particular truck was worth near a million dollars.

It is unclear how many of the nearly 18,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide have applied for military equipment. What is known, however, is the 1033 Program is directly contributing to the perception of our police force being militarized.

Afghanistan vs West Virginia

My unit used the MRAP extensively on our deployment to Afghanistan. They were a decisive upgrade to the much smaller “Humvee” armored trucks I had used in Iraq. Our vehicles were being shredded by rockets, roadside bombs, and triple stacked mine emplacements. I have not been able to find a single documented case of any of those weapons being used against police in Moundsville, W.V. Furthermore, the MRAP has a turret for a machine gun to be mounted. I do not believe the Moundsville Police Department has any machine guns in their armory. The specific model of MRAP they received is designed to hold around 11 people. As a result, the argument could be made it could be used as a Special Weapons and Tactics (S.W.A.T.) vehicle. I would argue that in this area, the size, profile, and conspicuous nature would be a hindrance. The Los Angeles S.W.A.T. department has a much better justification to use an MRAP as they currently have more uniformed officers employed than Moundsville has current residents.

These vehicles require a large amount of fuel and maintenance. These two specific requirements are not cheap, or readily available in most places. This begs the question: why did they request the vehicle? The Moundsville Police Department and City Treasurer’s Office have yet to respond to any of our inquires on this topic, leaving unanswered questions about the decision-making process behind the acquisition.

Other considerations

An MRAP weighs between 14 to 18 tons, depending on the equipment and modifications they are fitted with. This will certainly limit the routes they can take, and potentially damage certain roadways. Furthermore, the new vehicle has “U.S.M.C.” stenciled in paint on the side. This makes it hard to see the reasoning behind this decision, and probably does little to make the residents feel safer.

In conclusion, I strongly advocate for a re-examination of what gear should be made available through the 1033 Program. The majority of what is distributed through the 1033 is office equipment, and I fully support that portion. However, I do not feel certain items, like bayonets, should be included in this program. Additionally, a revision of who qualifies for each item available, based on a new set of designated parameters. I understand the idea of giving surplus military gear to other federal agencies. However, there needs to be an evaluation as to why tens and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment is now considered surplus. Most service members would agree that things break constantly, and military trucks are among the highest culprits.