Should Local Law Enforcement Have War Vehicles? Here’s the Most Recent Case Out of Utah
Jan. 24, 2014 9:30pm Elizabeth Kreft
Utah law enforcement officers now have wartime equipment at their disposal.
The Taylorsville, Utah, Highway Patrol recently acquired a new mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) armored vehicle from the Department of Defense. The 14-ton machines were designed to survive land mine threats and withstand improvised explosive device (IED) attacks. Now the highway patrol crew envisions driving them “right through the middle of a gunfight.”
Military MRAPs Given to Utah Law Enforcement, Militarization of Police
U.S. Army Spc. Jonathan Cepeda, a security force member of the Guam Army National Guard assigned to the Farah Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), signals to the driver of a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle to park after returning to Farah from Herat, Afghanistan, Feb. 1, 2010. MRAPs like these are being turned over to law enforcement agencies who participate in the DoD’s Excess Property Program. (Credit: DoD)
The DoD 1033 is managed through the Defense Logistics Agency’s Law Enforcement Support Office, and under federal law allows surplus military equipment to be handed over to state and local civilian law enforcement agencies for use in counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism operations, or to enhance officer safety.
Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Alex Lepley appreciated the size advantage the huge vehicles offer. “Obviously, it is intimidating,” Lepley said, “but that isn’t its primary purpose. It’s saving lives. I can drive this right through the middle of a gunfight.”
But with nearly 13,000 agencies in all 50 states and four U.S. territories participating in the program, it raises concerns for some civil libertarians that the militarization of police and law enforcement is beyond the point of no return.
Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute of Utah, said he’s concerned the program gives Utah police a financial incentive to use more violent tactics than they otherwise might in an era when crime and police officer deaths are declining, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.
“The data I’ve seen is that the risk is decreasing, and yet the tools of defense are gearing up,” Boyack said.
The sheriffs and police chiefs who subscribe to the program say they are trying to protect the public and their officers.
“I look out for the rights of my deputies,” said Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower, whose office also received an MRAP. “They have the right to be protected in the dangerous work that they do.”
The MRAP is not the only gift Utah law enforcement agencies have received from the military. In the two-year period beginning in October 2011, Utah police received 1,230 rifles, according to records the Defense Department provided to The Tribune.
Utah law enforcement officials obtained at least 4 grenade launchers through the Defense Logistics Agency’s Law Enforcement Support Office – it is unclear which style of grenade launcher was acquired, then again, does it matter? (Credit: DoD)
According to an April 2013 audit, Utah police possessed $2.8 million of weapons and other military gear received through the program, including four grenade launchers, 17 .45-caliber pistols and a handful of magazines and weapon accessories.
So the question is, what will happen when the first U.S. civilian is killed by local law enforcement using this equipment? The Salt Lake City Tribune reports there’s no available documentation to confirm or deny anyone in Utah has been shot or killed with weapons from the 1033 Program, and a Defense Department spokesman told The Blaze he was “not aware of any” legal suits brought against the DoD regarding the program.