(Article changed on February 18, 2014 at 10:32)
By Dave Lindorff
(This article originally ran in WhoWhatWhy News)
If you're a small-town police chief, or perhaps the chief of a university security department, the US Department of Defense has got a deal for you!
Thanks to the ending of the Iraq War, and the winding down of the war in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has 11,000 heavily armored vehicles that it has no use for. Called MRAPs--Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected--they are designed to protect against AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and IEDs. And as pitchman Paul Richards used to say of the '69 Pontiac Firebird, "They're practically giving them away!"
Correction, they are giving them away.
All a local police department has to do to get itself an 18-ton MRAP--which originally cost taxpayers between $400,000-$700,000 complete with gun turret and bullet-proof windows--is send a few cops to pick it up and pay for the gas.
There are a few downsides: the things get only five miles to the gallon, can't go over most bridges (or under them), and have a nasty habit of tipping over on rough terrain.
Since last summer, police departments across the country have taken possession of 165 DOD surplus MRAPs, and there are another 731 requests for the 14-foot-high vehicles. Even Ohio State University police got their hands on one, saying it would provide a "police presence" at football games. Most of the rest of the vehicles to date have gone to smaller community police forces--everywhere from Farmington, NM (pop. 45,000) to Hamburg Village, NY (pop. 9,500).
For the most part, Americans don't seem to question the use of military vehicles by their local police, but some communities are starting to object. In Concord, New Hampshire, for instance, 1500 residents last fall signed a petition opposing their town's use of a $258,000 federal Homeland Security grant to purchase a BearCat for the local police department.
The Concord Monitor reported that most of those opposing the purchase said they feared further militarization of their local police. Despite the opposition, the town government went ahead with the acquisition anyway.
Beating the MRAP
Enter State Representative J.R. Hoell, a libertarian Republican who represents Dunbarton, NH, just outside of Concord. Hoell recently introduced a bill, the Police Equipment and Community Engagement (PEACE) Act, in the state legislature, which would bar state and municipal agencies in New Hampshire from buying or even accepting free offers of "military style equipment" for police use, except with the approval of the assembled citizenry at a public town meeting.
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