Free!: Police Departments Tout No-Cost War Tanks

Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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What’s the best kind of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle? A free one.

That’s the thinking of some local law enforcement officials across the country whose departments are the recipients of the retired war tanks, known as MRAPs.

“That’s a $750,000 machine that we got for absolutely nothing,” Clay County, Missouri sheriff’s captain Matt Hunter recently told KSHB of the 54,000 pound desert beast his department recently received from the Department of Defense.

Hunter’s department is one of a growing number of police agencies to receive an MRAP as part of the DOD’s 1033 Excess Property program.

The program gives local police units military vehicles, weapons and other equipment left over from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“There was a desperate need for something like this,” said Hunter, whose department serves a county of around 220,000 residents north of Kansas City.

And the best part, according to Hunter: “Taxpayers didn’t have to pay anything for it.”

But that’s a strange way of looking at the vehicles, according to one government watchdog group.

“It’s surprising that he would make that comment,” said Sean Kennedy of Citizens Against Government Waste.  “Although his community didn’t pay for the MRAP with local taxes, they certainly contributed at the federal level.”

The Department of Defense spent more than $47 billion on MRAPs through 2012 to use in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But as those wars have winded down, DOD has funneled surplus items to the local police departments.

Since last August, DOD has distributed $350 million worth of military surplus – including not just 587 MRAPs but also desks, computers, and night-vision goggles – to local police agencies, according to Emergency Management.

That indicates that the U.S. overpurchased military equipment, Kennedy told The Daily Caller, who noted that the MRAPs “are notoriously expensive to maintain.”

“What appears to be a free gift can, in the end, turn out to be quite a costly acquisition,” he said.

“It’s hard to imagine why some towns that received an MRAP would require it,” said Kennedy, pointing to Dundee, Michigan, a town of 3,900 that recently received an MRAP.

Other options for recouping some of the up-front investment put into the MRAPs would be to sell them to foreign countries through the DOD’s Foreign Military Sales program.

Other critics of the program have expressed concern over what has been called the “militarization” of U.S. police agencies.

“It just seems like ramping up a police department for a problem we don’t have,” said Shay Korittnig, a resident of Neenah, Wisc., according to the New York Times, which recently reported on the flow of war gear to local police agencies.

“This is not what I was looking for when I moved here, that my children would view their local police officer as an M-16-toting, SWAT-apparel-wearing officer.”

Neenah has a population of around 25,000 and a crime rate far lower than the rest of the U.S.

“It’s for the safety of the citizens of Clay County,” Hunter claimed.

Though designed to withstand mine blasts and rocket attacks from insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hunter and other police officials have said that the beastly vehicles could be of use during stand-offs and active shooter situations.

Hunter also said that an MRAP could be deployed during a flood or in the aftermath of a tornado.

“This is something that we’ll probably use, hopefully, maybe, once or twice a year,” Hunter said.

Hunter isn’t the only police official who thinks that the MRAPs are too good of a deal to pass up.

“It’s built well, and it’s free. I’d be crazy not to take it,” Ohio Township police Chief Norbert Micklos told Emergency Management.

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