The U.S. military has been equipping police departments across the country with surplus armored vehicles left over from the Middle Eastern conflicts. Local law enforcement agencies have exuded a vast transformation from public servants to a brutish, quasi-military force.
Originally worth half a million dollars, local law enforcement agencies have been getting these vehicles at a massive discount to bolster an overkill attempt at shock and awe. Law enforcement agencies have been receiving mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) for about $2,500, if they are not outright donated. Despite the bargain, the vehicles are still a huge expense.
“It’s armored. It’s heavy. It’s intimidating. And it’s free,” said Albany, New York County Sheriff Craig Apple.
Local law enforcement receive the MRAPs as is, therefore the vehicles have to be retrofitted to compliment civilian use. This retrofit, which includes painting, emergency lights, seating, and loudspeakers, could cost $70,000 per unit. The size of the vehicles makes it difficult to negotiate some roads and bridges, and they have very poor fuel economy at five miles per gallon.
In many instances, supplies and heavy military equipment have been distributed poorly, as much of the $4.2 billion surplus inventory has gone to low-crime areas since 1990. The University of Ohio State even received a MRAP, but it’s being used more for visually-affected crowd control at football games, rather than actual police operations.
Kara Dansky, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Center for Justice Senior counsel, said that police militarization has the potential to “escalate violence.” But law enforcement agencies are pleased about the receipt of these vehicles; however, the use of military-grade equipment has not boded well for law enforcement in the past.
In 2010, Detroit police raided a home where seven-year old Aiyana Mo’nay Stanley-Jones was asleep on the couch next to her grandmother. Police threw a flashbang grenade into the home, and the weapon landed and discharged on Jones’ blanket. The blanket caught fire, then police rushed inside the house, and, in the chaos, accidentally shot Jones in the neck.
Two years prior, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department in South Carolina invested in a small, armored tank that Sheriff Leon Pitt dubbed “The Peacemaker.” “The Peacemaker” is equipped with a belt-fed, .50 caliber machine gun. Fifty-caliber rounds are so destructive that even the military avoids using that caliber on human targets, but instead concentrates it on heavily-armored, enemy vehicles.
Richland County’s most common crimes are non-violent drug and gambling crimes. However, Pitt believes such overkilled firepower will actually “save lives.” But instances of innocent death at the hands of police overexertion illustrates the opposite.
“Traditionally, the roles of police and the roles of military have been very different — and for good reason,” said Shakyra Diaz, policy director of Ohio’s ACLU chapter. “We cannot have our police looking at members of the community as military combatants.”
Josh is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow him on Twitter @dnJdeli.