Reader submissions from small towns that are militarizing their police forces

Police officers in Mason City, Iowa, get a look on April 14 at the department's new mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle on loan from the Department of Defense. The vehicle will be used primarily by North Central Iowa Special Operation Groups. (Arian Schuessler/The Globe Gazette via Associated Press)
Police officers in Mason City, Iowa, look at the department’s new mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle on loan from the Department of Defense. (Arian Schuessler/The Globe Gazette via Associated Press)

This month, I posted a list of small towns that have acquired a mine-resistant ambush-protected armored vehicle (MRAP) from the Pentagon, along with a challenge to readers to send me more examples. Man, we received a lot of examples.

One reader sent photos from Rehoboth, Mass. (population 10,200), showing not only the town police department’s MRAP, but also three Humvees, also obtained form the military. Another noted that Mason County, Wash., a logging community with a single incorporated town, got a military armored vehicle (though it isn’t an MRAP).

Another wrote from Orrville, Ohio (population 8,400), where the local police department also doesn’t have an MRAP but did acquire a 1980s-era M-113 armored fighting vehicle. And then there’s Reeds Spring, Mo., which also has some other sort of armored vehicle, as evidenced by the photo the town’s police chief posted on the police department’s Facebook page. Reeds Spring’s population: 903.

Another reader pointed out that Deming, N.M.  (population: 14,800), got an MRAP in March 2013. You may remember Deming as the site of a horrific story last year in which a traffic stop for rolling through a stop sign escalated into police subjecting a man to multiple forced anal probes, X-rays and a colonoscopy because they suspected him of hiding drugs in his rectum. There were no drugs.

Another reader reported attending a town council meeting in Sweetwater, Fla. (population 13,500), in which elected officials approved the police chief’s request for an MRAP. The scandal-plagued police department also has a SWAT team (see a video of the SWAT team in action here) and at least one OH6 helicopter, also apparently obtained from the Pentagon. Sweetwater has seen all of two murders in 13 years.

In Banning, Calif., city leaders got into an ugly public altercation after a police officer crashed the department’s MRAP into a pickup truck while driving the vehicle in Arizona. City officials say they never approved acquisition of the vehicle.

So far, however, we’ve yet to find a town with a population smaller than the 3,900 people of Dundee, Mich. But here are the other towns sent by Post readers:

One correction to the earlier post. I noted that Madison, Ind. (population 12,000), had acquired an MRAP. That’s true, but I mistakenly linked to a story about Madison, Wis., getting one. Here’s the story about Madison, Ind., (population: 12,000).

In Montgomery County, Tex., the sheriff’s department made headlines a couple of years ago when it acquired a drone by way of a federal grant. So far, domestic police agencies have argued for drones only for surveillance purposes. But the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department broke new ground when a spokesman said the agency was considering arming the new drone with rubber bullets and tear gas. The drone then crashed into an armored personnel carrier during a joint exercise with the department’s SWAT team. Yes, the drone crashed into their armored truck. The $250,000 drone was apparently salvageable, because last week, they crashed the thing again, this time into a lake.

I’ll leave you with this photo a reader sent of the Wharton County, Tex., SWAT Team (or they call it, the S.T.A.R. team — short for the Sheriff’s Tactical and Raid division). The trend toward police militarization has been in motion since the early 1980s. The MRAP distribution is only the latest chapter. The photo, taken from the sheriff’s department Web site, was snapped in 1999, shortly after a raid to serve a search warrant for illegal drugs. In 2007, the team was part of a drug raid in which police shot and killed 17-year-old Daniel Castillo. The victim wasn’t the target of the search.

WCSD

 

Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."
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Radley Balko | April 29