Militarization of Police

Small-Town Cops Get Armored Vehicle. 'It's definitely a big icebreaker with the kids.'

Much of the impetus for small-town police departments with military vehicles, weapons and tactics comes from the feds themselves.

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MRAP
United States Department of Defense

Watertown, Connecticut, a city of 22,000 people with crime rates that seem to be enviably below the national average, now has itself a slightly used Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicle. Nearby Waterbury has one, too. All they had to pay for the military surplus hardware was a few grand for shipping and handling (new, the vehicles run $733,000)—and maintenance from here on out. And now they have themselves some mobile armor designed to survive insurgents armed with small arms and explosives.

"It's a great opportunity for the public to learn about the police and what we do," says Watertown Police Sgt. Curt Molnar. "It's definitely a big icebreaker with the kids."

And brick-breaker, and timber-breaker, and cinder-block breaker…

Writes Bill Bittar at Stars and Stripes:

WATERTOWN, Conn. — When Waterbury's Emergency Response Team set out to arrest two suspects in a home-invasion case early this month, they went in force: Two heavily armored trucks led a convoy of officers to nab the suspects at a house on Laurel Street.

The mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles used in the raid were acquired for free by Watertown and Waterbury, which are among 11 Connecticut police departments to own such gear.

Watertown Police Sgt. Curt Molnar said his department shares its MRAP as a regional vehicle with Waterbury, Naugatuck Valley Community College, Wolcott and Middlebury.

"You hope not to use it much, because it could mean there's a shooter or a serious call," Molnar said.

Just a few weeks ago, the same publication pointed out, "MRAP armored troop carriers, night-vision rifle scopes, camouflage fatigues, Humvees and dozens of M16 automatic rifles are just some of the tools that have found their way to Michiana police, courtesy of the federal government."

Reason has covered the ongoing militarization of policing for years, well before it hit the national radar as a serious concern (see our video, below). The American Civil Liberties Union recently reported on the phenomenon, cautioning:

Across the country, heavily armed Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams are forcing their way into people's homes in the middle of the night, often deploying explosive devices such as flashbang grenades to temporarily blind and deafen residents, simply to serve a search warrant on the suspicion that someone may be in possession of a small amount of drugs.

Even the federal government's own Justice Department is concerned. Karl Bickel, a senior analyst in the DOJ's Community Oriented Policing Services Office, wrote this past December:

Police chiefs and sheriffs may want to ask themselves—if after hiring officers in the spirit of adventure, who have been exposed to action oriented police dramas since their youth, and sending them to an academy patterned after a military boot camp, then dressing them in black battle dress uniforms and turning them loose in a subculture steeped in an "us versus them" outlook toward those they serve and protect, while prosecuting the war on crime, war on drugs, and now a war on terrorism—is there any realistic hope of institutionalizing community policing as an operational philosophy?

Of course, much of the impetus for small-town police departments with military vehicles, weapons and tactics comes from the feds themselves. That free MRAP in Watertown comes courtesy of the Defense Logistics Agency's 1033 program, which supplies law-enforcement agencies with military surplus. "Preference is given to counter-drug and counter-terrorism requests."

The program's current catalog (get your shopping done early!) lists all sorts of goodies, including tactical vehicles and assault rifles. It's a bargain many police departments can't resist.

And it's such an icebreaker with the kids.

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  1. “You hope not to use it much, because it could mean there’s a shooter ”

    In which case we ain’t going anywhere near that active shooter. We’re hiding in the vehicle.

  2. “You hope not to use it much, because it could mean there’s a shooter or a serious call,” Molnar said.

    If they have it, they are going to use it. That’s just human nature.

    1. If they have it, they are going to use it. That’s just human cop nature.

  3. Wannabes. You want to roll out in an MRAP into your “sector”, etc, etc – go join the Army or the Marines.

  4. Barney Fife would have loved to have this in Mayberry, what with going after moonshiners, kids trespassing at the swimming hole, and Otis weaving down the sidewalk in an alcoholic stupor.

    1. Really is the comparison that keeps running through my mind. Barney’s in charge and no sane adults are around to talk sense into him.

    2. Ernest T would still be throwing rocks at windows, but it would be a government job now.

      1. Ernest T was in only five episodes of the Andy Griffith show.

        Just five, yet memorable to this day.

        RIP Howard Morris

        1. RIP indeed.

    3. He could have kept his one live cartridge in the glove compartment.

  5. Joke, sir? Guaranteed amusing. As used by the crowned heads of Europe. Has brought tears to the eyes of Royalty. ‘Denmark has never laughed so much’ – ‘The Stage’. Nice little novelty number – ‘a naughty Humphrey’ – breaks the ice at parties. Put it on the table. Press the button. It vomits. Absolutely guaranteed. With refills. ‘Black soap’ – leave it in the bathroom, they wash their hands, real fungus grows on the fingers. Can’t get it off for hours. Guaranteed to break the ice at parties. Frighten the elderly – real snakes. Comedy hernia kit. Plastic flesh wounds – just keep your friends in stitches. Guaranteed to break the ice at parties. Hours of fun with ‘honeymoon delight’ – empty it into their beds – real skunk juice. They won’t forget their wedding night. Sticks to the skin, absolutely waterproof, guaranteed to break the ice at parties. Amuse your friends – CS gas canisters – smells, tastes and acts just like the real thing – can blind, maim or kill. Or for drinks, why not buy a ‘wicked willy’ with a life-size winkle – serves warm beer. Makes real cocktails. Hours of amusement. Or get the new Pooh-Pooh machine. Embarrass your guests – completely authentic sound. Or why not try a new ‘naughty nightie’ – put it on and it melts – just watch their faces. Guaranteed to break the ice at naughty parties. (pause) Go on, go on.

    1. nice Python tie in. Too bad it’s more “Dim of the Yard” these days.

  6. It could well be that the Police in Watertown found out that the citizens of Watertown had successfully petitioned the British Government to return to the empire as a colony. The vehicle was probably one of many that is being order all over New England in the wake of a movement in that area, admitting the mistake of The American Revolution. God Save The Queen!

  7. An MRAP may be huge and imposing, but I don’t see much harm in giving them to local cops, particularly when they seem to have been lemons in military service and their cost is “sunk”. At most they’re part of a wider attitude problem, but at least they might be legitimately useful during floods or other disasters. The real civil liberties problem is the human SWAT teams and their employment, and the broader arms-race attitude that feeds all this.

    1. Military equipment has no place in civilian police forces. Period.

      If the fedgov just has to dump these things rather than putting them in storage, I’m sure we can find a few countries that would be willing to take them.

  8. It’s a great opportunity for the public to learn about the police and what we do

    So true. So very, very true.

  9. Does anyone know what the maintenance costs on those things are? I’m sure the parts aren’t exactly easy to come by or cheap (you just don’t go to your local Napa part store) not to mention the expertise of a mechanic. Sounds like a money pit to me.

    1. That’s why they’re giving them away.

    2. Uppity plebe questioning the judgement of your betters, you’ll be getting an upclose view of one of these deathbringers soon.

    3. Same basic costs as a dump truck or garbage truck.

  10. We had a case in New Hampshire recently where a cop went into a domestic situation alone. A fight between a grown son and his elderly father. The son shot the cop.

    So dozens of cops drive at high speed, which endangers people on the road. They deploy the MRAP. And then they all stood around outside the house, which sonny boy set on fire. So they watched the house burn.

    They always say they need the equipment to respond to god knows what, but when the shit hit the fan….nothin.

  11. “It’s a great icebreaker for the kids, especially these ISIS kids that just moved to town. They’re keeny interested in how to drive these vehicles, even asking where they are parked at night and what kind of security the lot has.”

  12. It will be useful, with all of the minefields the people of Connecticut are dealing with.

  13. These things are for transiting contested/dangerous areas. They have zero added functionality with a hostage situation or other stationary “crisis”.

    I look forward to lulzy articles about these things wrecking bridges, tearing up roads, chronically breaking down, and generally rusting away for lack of maintenance.

  14. Wait until they go to use it and it won’t start, or go in gear.
    Perhaps then they’ll actually read the Maintenance Schedule, and cost it out.

  15. Just the maintenance of one of these things is an unnecessary expense.
    The cops will waste money & probably ruin the streets picking up hookers.

  16. Maybe they could start a regional SWAT TEAM. http://vimeo.com/29287031

  17. I used to go to the Red Door out in Watertown, it’s pretty idyllic. What the heck do they…

    oh, forget it.

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