Militarization of Police

Police in Columbia, South Carolina and 499 Other Cities Get "Free" Tanks


Via Benn Swann comes this charming tale of SWAT team overkill. The Columbia, South Carolina police department—along with 499 other municipalities across this sweet land of liberty—received a "free" MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle featuring bullet-proof skin and a rack capable of holidng a 50 caliber machine gun. Such vehicles cost about $658,000 but this one was gifted to the police by the Department of Defense.

Swann notes:

Though the vehicle was "free" to the citizens of Columbia, they were purchased by taxpayer money.  500 surplus military vehicles costing $658,000 each adds up to $329 million dollars of surplus DoD spending (and therefore taxing) on vehicles which are so unnecessary to the military they are being given away to American cities.  Though this wouldn't fix the debt, it is yet another multi-million dollar piece of wasteful spending by the American federal government.

The most troubling aspect of the situation, though, is the reason for obtaining such a vehicle.  Another town which recently obtained federal funding for a military armored vehicle – though this one was through the Department of Homeland Security – was Concord, New Hampshire.  When the ACLU and New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union submitted a public records request, they discovered that groups like the Free State Project and Occupy New Hampshire had been cited as domestic terror threats, and their presence was listed as a reason the police department needed an armored vehicle.

Read more.

The vehicle came as part of the infamous "1033 program," through which Defense gets rid of excess stuff it didn't need in the first place by putting it into circulation via local police departments (it's like a gun giveaway in reverse and with tons more firepower). Read Reason on that.

And read about that horrifying Free State Project—in which a bunch of libertarians are moving to New Hampshire to influence state and local government in a small-government direction— here. Good luck finding any violent terrorists among the participants.

No journalist has done more to highlight the militarization of police than former Reason staffer Radley Balko (archive here), now at the Huffington Post (archive here). Watch this interview about his recent book Rise of the Warrior Cop.

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  1. When the technology to 3D print RPGs comes out, the cops will probably compensate by demanding ICBMs and weaponized Ebola.

  2. Welcome to the transition between governing by consent of the governed to governing by sheer brute force.

    1. Are you referring to the mid-90’s?

      1. 1860s.

    2. And this is why the Second Amendment really does include the right of the citizens to have crew-served weapons.

  3. Lol, “free” until they get the sustainment bill. These things ain’t cheap to maintain. How many positions will get the axe to pay for them? Any police chief who thinks this is a gift is an idiot.
    Half of these will be down for maintenance in a year

    1. My thoughts too – not exactly a fuel efficient vehicle. And the military has dedicated techs to maintain those things. Who is going to fix it?

      1. The DoD will sell maintenence plans for slightly more than their contractor charges to repair them. Then pocket the difference.

    2. There’s also the little problem that the armor and elevated hull make the vehicle topheavy. These things roll over faster than a Motley Crue groupie.

      1. Bug or feature?

        1. Necessary trade-off for the ‘mine-resistant’ part.

    3. Knife the tires a few times and the city council will be wondering if the cost to replace them is worth the value derived from owning one.

      1. Yeah you really don’t want to knife a high pressure tire like this. I mean unless you want to be naked and missing a limb.

        1. “I mean unless you want to be naked and missing a limb.”

          So, a typical Saturday night for a few of the folks here

    4. I’m pretty sure the Feds can be billed for that, too.

  4. I saw the Baltimore police driving one of these things a couple weeks ago when I was on my way to work. They had all the lights on and had their little military costumes on and everything, and were running red lights, but didn’t look like they were in any particular hurry. I figured they were just showboating. It’s kind of like a teenager who drenches himself in cologne – you wish somebody would just take them aside and let them know how ridiculous they are.

    1. but didn’t look like they were in any particular hurry

      Well, to be fair, what’s the top speed on that POS, 45-50mph?

    2. I bet they are still afraid to drive around in parts of west Balmer, even in that thing.

    3. They used one of these two weeks ago in Roseville Ca. when a man was holed up in a house. He was already surrounded by a 100 cops but they still needed to show off their new toy. The guy had shot three cops but like I pointed out they already had him and could have easily gased him out.

  5. They look good for parades. At last the cops have something to compete with fire trucks.

    1. Nothing like a civilian MRAP all decked out in red-white-and-blue bunting. 8-(

  6. My raisins from Fresno!

  7. Look, do you want law enforcement to become timid when dealing with citizens or do you want them to be able to introduce spectacular violence into our lives with gusto?

    1. Shithead. Was it bad in 1946 when our police began driving around in surplus Sherman tanks? Was it bad that they armed themselves with BARs, grease guns and M1911’s? Was it bad when they flew overhead in surplus B-17s?
      I think you’re forgetting history.

      1. I think you’re forgetting sarcasm.

        1. Someone here has been outsarcasmed. It may have been me.

  8. better ALT TEXTL Toys for tots!

    1. Toys for tots twats!


  9. Oh good, just in time for the Clemson-Carolina game.

    1. I’m pretty sure they play New England tonight, not some underwhelming college team. Do they even allow that?

      1. “underwhelming College team”

        Of course, how do you think they achieved their winning record? Jerry Richardson is pulling out all the stops to justify public funding for his new stadium.

  10. The Pentagon is getting rid of these so they can buy 60,000 plus replacements for both the MRAP and the Humvee…..al_Vehicle

    1. The enormous waste.

  11. Did the fuzz departments submit a certificate of need to get those things?

    1. +++++*+++++

    2. Have you been to Five Points when UGA travels to Columbia?

    3. Of course they did. They don’t have them. Therefore they need them. Application approved. Citizens extorted.

  12. Idiot politicians, and the voters who elect them, never seem to understand that even a “free” item like a MRAP will be a drain on tax revenues. First, they have to pay to train personnel and to pay some ongoing operating expenses. Then, they can count on spending 3-10% of capital cost for routine maintenance. And, in the case of a MRAP, ten years from now the equipment will become too expensive to maintain or obsolete, and the cops will argue that it is essential for ordinary police work to have battlefield equipment. Result: taxpayers get the shaft over and over again.

    1. On the paved streets of America they should last more than 10 years, even a Chevy will last fifteen 15 with minimal maintenaince, they should last 100. Of course that depends on whose driving.

      1. It’s cops, so five months before they’re overturned in a culvert, unable to tow the monster out.

        1. Nah, the FD will get to try out their new rescue toys. The ones they bought for specialized MRAP work.

          1. So who will rescue the FD toys when they manage to mire them in the same culvert?

            1. Mutual aid agreement with other departments?

        2. Your right a local fire crew recently overturned a brand new fire truck here where I live Northern Ca

  13. These vehicles are going to become very important in keeping “crazy libertarians” under control. So far, this kind of armor hasn’t been necessary because no one listens to libertarians, but there are signs that that is changing. The police will be the thin blue line that separates the content masses from the crusaders for freedom.

  14. I can tell you what is happening here. FEMA has all of this grant money to spend. Congress gives them all of this money because it makes it look like they are doing something about terrorism. But the reality is most departments are over funded and there isn’t much need for these grants. Further, it is really hard to think of a way to spend money that actually makes things safer. So what FEMA does is give out equipment. The Departments love having toys and FEMA loves telling Congress they have given “so many billions in grants” as if that means something.

    None of this is ever used and it is a total waste of money. It is just toys for bored cops paid for by the tax payer.

    1. grant money; I love that term. Like the money just appeared one day, left on the govt’s back porch. Nothing left to cut then?

      1. Hey, my friend’d daughter claims that money grows on trees. Of course, she’s 3 and thinks leaves are money.

        1. She should run for Congress, at least she will grow up and learn.

        2. Well, you shouldn’t have any problem getting her to keep her room clean — at least until she wises up.

      2. Not to mention the personnel cost. Got to have grant writers/administrators on the one side and grant reviewers/approvers/payers/auditors on the other.

    2. Its the line item budgeting if we spend X this year then we must need the same amount next year. I’m sure this is the real reason behind DHS buying billions of rounds of ammo, I hope thats the reason anyway.

      1. Well, you can’t have your budget go down year to year. What kind of precedent would that set?

        1. There budget stays the same or goes up while mine goes down trying to keep them in the lifestyle they’ve become acustomed to.

    3. I don’t understand why this is being allowed to happen. I haven’t heard ANYONE left/right/center/up/down (well, maybe down)argue that local LEO needs armor. In fact I hear the opposite from almost everyone. This should be easy to stop. It’s not being forced from above, so a local citizens groups should be able to throw a wrench in this fairly easily. Couple letters to the editor and a petition should get folks riled up enough that the councilmen and commissioners start running for cover.

      1. No, they just reschedule the approval meeting.

        1. Do you live in Concord, NH ?
          Because that is PRECISELY what happened.
          Big turnout at the meeting to approve the BEARCAT. So the issue was tabled, then quietly approved at a later meeting. Which I knew would happen. No way the cops were going to be denied their toy.

  15. Um, Nick calling an MRAP a tank just makes you sound as dumb as the gun grabbers calling every rifle in the world an “Assault Rifle”.

    An MRAP is not a tank, it is an armored personnel carrier and while it is true that police forces should not have armored vehicles calling them tanks is sensationalistic fearmongering at best

    1. calling them tanks is sensationalistic fearmongering at best

      Yeah, well “sensationalistic fearmongering” is redundant, so joke’s on you!

      1. What, you don’t think understated and calm fear mongering is possible?

    2. If he’d hire one fucking person with ANY military experience, or even a consultant, they might actually gain some respectability. The military articles at Reason are generally based on misconceptions. It really hurts their cred.

  16. The government’s treating citizens as potential terrorists threats have been on display for the past couple months with a series of revelations about the NSA, IRS and DOJ. In March 2009, a leaked secret report from the Missouri Information Analysis Center (MIAC) profiled third-party supporters, homeschoolers, people who know the U.S. Constitution and people who have related bumper stickers on their cars, fly the flag or even invest in gold as potential domestic terrorists.

    Wasn’t a terrorist before. Kinda want to be one now.

    1. people who know the U.S. Constitution

      People who think that there are explicit limitations on government power are the greatest threat to government power.

  17. These things ain’t cheap to maintain. How many positions will get the axe to pay for them?

    That’s funny.

  18. Where I live the police mostly drive toy cars like this, or at most this. Enjoy your police state, biatches.

    1. And until not too long ago, most US police cars looked about like the second picture. But the trend now seems to be that even the regular patrol cars look more tough and muscle-carish and they all seem to have the cow catcher thingies on the front.

  19. We should all go and flip that shit over, but the cops will probably already have it on its side in a ditch by the time we get there.


  21. At some point, the restriction on having the military act as domestic police should come into play.

  22. At some point, the restriction on having the military act as domestic police should come into play.


  23. Meh, these things are just large trucks with heavy armor. Any facility that can do maintenance on a tractor-trailer can maintain an MRAP.

    I had one for 7 months, and we did most of our own maintenance.

    As far as it having “a rack capable of holidng [sic] a 50 caliber machine gun”, so do lots of pickup trucks. This sounds like Brady Campaign style “think about the children!” BS.

    There are good arguments against a PD having one of these, but please don’t resort to hand-wringing.

  24. One day, one day you guys will realize that the way you talk about these vehicle’s capabilities makes you sound *exactly* like the gun-banners when they mention ‘the thing which goes up’.

    Now, I am just as against police forces getting these vehicles as you are *but* . . .

    1. Its not a tank

    2. Its not got bullet-proof skin – there’s no single design for an MRAP and they come in a variety of sizes and armor levels. Almost all will be resistant to small-arms fire up to 7.62mm all around but only the heaviest will be able to to shrug off 12.7mm or larger rounds.

    3. The mount able to hold the 12.7mm – its a pretty bog standard weapon mount that can also hold smaller weapons and is more likely to do so. The 12.7mm is primarily an anti-vehicle weapon and if they want to be able to kill lots of people they’ll mount a 7.62mm MG or a grenade launcher (which can be also be used to deliver LTL ordnance).

    Stop trying to scare people with hyperbole – it doesn’t work well. Its perfectly fine to say that the civilian police forces of this country don’t need and shouldn’t have *armored personnel carriers*.

    1. One more reason (as if I needed one) to get a Barrett M82.

    2. What kind ventilation system? Just to be sure the folks inside are safe if a Molotov cocktail happened to hit it.

      1. Depends. Often nothing more special than the same ventilation/ac system a large SUV has – most MRAPs are basically large SUV’s that have been armored, barely more than the sort of vehicle a security firm would use to transfer money around town.

        NBC defense is often personal (gas masks and MOPP suits) though *some* of the larger ones may have an installed air filtration system.

        Protection from things like Molotov’s is about the same as any other military vehicle – almost non-existent. The most common anti-Molotov defenses involve placing a wire mesh over your engine intakes and placing the intakes out of easy reach.

        Toss a Molotov on the hood or at the grill and you stand a decent chance of chocking the engine – *if* the driver doesn’t gun the engine and accelerate hard enough to blow most of the burning fuel off the truck.

        You wanna disable an MRAP, get a 12.7mm mg, get it to drive into a concealed ditch, or force it to make a sharp turn at high speed.

  25. Hence the need for citizens to own RPGs.

  26. Why does this remind me of Dark Knight Rises Gotham.

  27. What defines a vehicle as a tank?





    1. A tank is a heavily armored vehicle designed to engage and destroy other heavy armor by maneuver and fire, in other words, a tank is a vehicle primarily concerned with destroying other tanks.

      A lot of armor and a big, powerful weapon (traditionally, but not necessarily, a big gun) define a tank.

      Tracks are required because of its weight.

      1. The first tanks weren’t tanks then? Because the other guys didn’t have any tanks yet.

        1. The purpose and definition of ‘tank’ has changed considerably over the years.

          The original tanks designed in WWI were infantry support vehicles, by WWII they had morphed into anti-tank vehicles and ze Germans showed what could be done with a big gun and a hefty bit of speed and maneuverability, leading to modern tanks being what they are now.

  28. An MRAP isn’t a tank*, and “capable” of holding an M2 doesn’t mean jack.

    There are good and valid critiques of the militarization of policing, which is a real problem.

    But this hyperbole isn’t that.

    Stop it, Reason.

    (* An MRAP doesn’t even qualify as an APC, by any normal standard. It sure as hell can’t be a tank, being – in this usage – unarmed.)

    1. So criticizing a local police force for getting an actual armored military vehicle isn’t a good and valid example of police militarization that’s worthy of criticism?

      1. Certainly it is, but that’s not what we’re complaining about here. We’re complaining about the sheer ignorance of what a MRAP actually is and its conflation with much more powerful war engines.

        Getting an APC is inappropriate for a police force, but what *that* means is far different from a police force that is deploying *actual* tanks.

  29. Hey, there are bad people in the world. And I for one wish the DoD would stop arming them.

  30. Hey, those look perfect for the coming zombie apocalypse.

    Seriously, there is tremendous waste in the military, with Congress mandating purchases that the military doesn’t want or need, in order to give manufacturing pork to their districts. Get rid of the pork, but meanwhile if the stuff has already been paid for by our tax dollars, better to give it to the municipalities that might possibly need them, than for the stuff to rust in mothballed vehicle junkyards. I have no problem with local control; if the proverbial ever hits the fan, it’s more likely the people will control the equipment that way, than have it used against them.

  31. Check this out. MRAPS and hollow points for Interior next.

  32. Our masters need an army to control the peasantry. This is as old as civilization itself.

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