Militarization of Police

Michigan County Sheriff's Department Dumps Armored Military Truck


From Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

In April, the sheriff's department of Saginaw County, Michigan, landed itself one of those Mine Resistant Ambush Proof (MRAP) armored military vehicles being handed out to law enforcement agencies across the country willy nilly. At the time, the sheriff said there hadn't ever been a situation during his term that required the use of such a vehicle, but worried about any potential worst-case scenarios. He told Michigan MLive reporter Brad Devereaux they were "constantly outgunned" by criminals who could be carrying silencers (which MRAP's don't actually assist with) or assault weapons. But he hoped he wouldn't need to use it and expected to rarely even be driving it around.

Fast forward to the past two weeks and the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. On his Sunday HBO show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the titular host singled out Saginaw County in his 15-minute segment about the militarization of the police department. The comedian didn't actually need to generate laughs himself. He found a video of two dude-bros who rolled up beside the massive military truck "dude"-ing at each other over how huge and impressive the thing is. Finally, one observes, "Damn, dude, that's fucked up," as they watched it drive on ahead.

Indeed. And now the Saginaw County Sheriff's Department has announced they're dumping the truck. The sheriff claims he had already made plans to get rid of the MRAP before the police confrontation in Ferguson prompted public questioning over police militarization. Again from Deveraux at MLive (where they've also got the Oliver segment embedded):

"I made the decision about a month ago to decommission that vehicle," [Sheriff Bill] Federspiel said, noting he did it based on financial concerns due to unforeseen maintenance costs.

While the military was to provide any needed parts, Federspiel said he still had to pay for a specialized mechanic to install the parts, along with insurance and fuel for the vehicle. 

When Saginaw County Commissioners asked him to look for cost-saving measures before setting the budget in July, the MRAP was the first thing to go, he said. 

The decision also came because Federspiel decided to direct funds from drug forfeitures into the county's general fund, he said. He previously planned to use drug forfeiture funds to pay for any costs associated with the MRAP and did so during the installation of a new starter and a new locking mechanism for the door since the vehicle has been in Saginaw County. 

When drug forfeiture funding was put into the county's general fund, Federspiel said it created a situation in which taxpayers might have to fund some of the costs of the MRAP, which also prompted him to send it back to the Army. 

Two things of interest to note. First of all, it should not come as a surprise that they failed to predict or plan for certain costs when getting something "free" from the federal government. I have seen this time and time again where municipalities chase federal grants for projects and purchases, tell the community they're getting it for "free," and then—surprise!—these gifts result in big drains on the budget in later years because they aren't getting federal money to maintain them. Sometimes the community doesn't even realize it unless it becomes a big enough problem to become a focus of discussion in the city (like when the economy turns sour).

Second, like we needed another reason for asset forfeiture reform. Note the phrasing that the sheriff "decided" to direct funds from drug forfeitures to the county's general fund. The Institute for Justice (IJ), which has launched a big effort of fight civil asset forfeiture by law enforcement agencies, gives Michigan a D- for its forfeiture laws. According to IJ, law enforcement agencies across the state are typically allowed to keep the money for themselves and have raked in more than $149 million in forfeiture revenue from 2001 to 2008. A report covering 2012 calculated prosecutors and law enforcement agencies bringing in more than $25.7 million in cash and property from their seizures that year.

It is fascinating that Federspiel himself decided to give the money to the county's general fund (if that's truly how it shook out). It is a huge disincentive for his agency to try and seize whatever it can get its hands on and is also going to make it a challenge for his sheriff's department to participate in any further militarization. Unfortunately, if this is a voluntary decision on his part, it could also be undone due to pressure or by a future sheriff.

This isn't the first unusual choice of Federspiel's that Reason has taken note of. In July, Ed Krayewski noticed that he was switching prison uniforms from orange back to the old-timey black-and-white-striped overalls because he worried that orange jumpsuits were possibly becoming trendy and people wouldn't be able to determine whether somebody was actually a prison inmate.

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  1. While the military was to provide any needed parts


    The Defense Budget is now being used to let Chief Wiggums have a play MRAP?!

  2. it should not come as a surprise that they failed to predict or plan for certain costs when getting something “free” from the federal government.

    Such gifts are generally called “White Elephants” from the habit of a southeast asian monarchy to give sacred elephants to nobles he wanted to financially destroy. The expense of maintaining the creature was ruinous and removed the noble as a threat to the crown.

    1. Thanks for the history lesson, that’s awesome.

    2. Like Christophe, I thank you for the lesson. But sadly, I didn’t think it was ‘awesome’.

      While deployed at Al Asad airbase, there was a building with all the entertainment options for troops. Pool tables, tv/movies/video games, and VOIP phones, all available for a price.

      I often asked my friends, “Why is this place called ‘The White Elephant’?”

  3. The Pentagon doesn’t just hand out this stuff “willy nilly”, you actually have to show some sort of need for it. For example, when The Ohio State University wanted an MRAP they were required to submit newspaper clippings to demonstrate that they regularly did battle with wolverines, badgers, golden gophers, Nittany lions, fighting Illini, and other assorted fearsome creatures.

    1. Ooooh, I want one for the Illinois Men’s Rugby club!

    2. You forgot the Spartans, although I can see why since they lost that battle.

  4. I don’t understand why all this heavy-duty equipment isn’t given to the National Guard instead. Isn’t it more their kind of thing?

  5. From my experience with county and small town budgetting, the maintenance of cop cars and various other official vehicles is a major piece of pork to be handed out. Having a big fat vehicle maintenance check go to some fancy defense contractor type will not make the county council happy. They’ve got friends and families that need some that sweet taxpayer juice.

  6. http://clevernicknames.wordpre…..-vehicles/

    “?free,” ? Not so much. First: now you have to send one or two of the city mechanics to the MRAP maintenance school and a couple of personnel to the operators school. There are plenty to choose from: 5 US corporations (BAE, GD, FPI, Navistar, Oshkosh) , in five separate states, (with 10 Senators and and least 5 different Representatives, and 5 Governors all love them some MRAP. Yes sir.)

    Lets see:

    Maintenance (per year): ~ $14,285.00
    Spare parts (per year): ~ $14,642.00
    Consumables (per year): ~ $19,285.00
    Gas and Oil (per year): ~ $ 2,124.00
    Training expense: ~ $ 7,142.00

    Total per year for “Free”: ~ $57,478.00

    Kiss my tired tax-paying ass?.free.

    (sourced from:

  7. I applaud this Police chief regardless of the reason and hope his example becomes a beacon of reason that others will follow. I read over and over about tactical units at the local level being out of control but I never read about the city council meeting or the board of commissioners meeting being packed with irate citizens demanding the police chief’s resignation or the recall campaigns removing the members who are complicit in this militarization of our local police departments. As long as the citizenry remains silent and compliant this will continue until there is no liberty left which we will be willing to fight for.

  8. MRAP is mine resistant, ambush protected. Not ambush proof. Nothing is ambush proof.

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