Let ‘em Rust?

There is no need to explain the problems with giving cops excess military stuff. Radley Balko has already done so in his book, Rise of the Warrior Cop. But it presents an open question: With so many billions of dollars worth of military equipment no longer needed elsewhere, what should be done with it?

Miitary vehicle

On the one hand, if police have it, they will use it. Not just for parades and trips to elementary schools, but against any threat to their authority, whether it is an unlawful chicken ranch or the neighborhood poker game. As Balko explains, this is like putting a loaded weapon in the hands of children, or military gear in the hands of civilian police. Bad things follow.

Much as I would love to have one of these big boys sitting in my driveway (and I seriously would, notwithstanding the gas mileage issues), the DoD has yet to ask me to take one off its hands.  I would even be happy to sign a pledge to use it only for good, never for evil. But no.

Instead, they’re being offered to police:

“It’s armored. It’s heavy. It’s intimidating. And it’s free,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, among five county sheriff’s departments and three other police agencies in New York that have taken delivery of an MRAP.

But the trucks have limits. They are too big to travel on some bridges and roads and have a tendency to be tippy on uneven ground. And then there’s some cost of retrofitting them for civilian use and fueling the 36,000-pound behemoths that get about 5 miles to the gallon.

Even worse, they’re going to departments that have the least theoretical need for such heavy equipment.

An Associated Press investigation of the Defense Department military surplus program this year found that a disproportionate share of the $4.2 billion worth of property distributed since 1990 – everything from blankets to bayonets and Humvees – has been obtained by police and sheriff’s departments in rural areas with few officers and little crime.

Or colleges, like Ohio State, because they hasn’t seen their share of problems.  Will the police who receive armored vehicles recognize the potential for danger?

Sheriff Apple rejected the idea that the nation’s police forces are becoming too militaristic.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “Our problem is we have to make sure we are prepared to respond to every type of crisis.”

This suggests that the police, unlike me, will not only have little reluctance to use this military equipment inappropriately, but will do so with enormous verve and élan. After all, they have really cool toys and it’s not like they perceive any problem using them to fetch the donuts.

But even if handing this cool stuff over to the cops may not be the best idea around, there remains this huge wealth of surplus military equipment with nowhere to go.  We’ve spent a huge fortune on this equipment for the critical mission of stopping Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction freeing the Iraqi people so they can war amongst themselves. Now what?

24 comments on “Let ‘em Rust?

  1. ek

    Minor point: the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young classic refers to Kent State University. While it is a public school in Ohio, KSU is separate and distinct from Ohio State.

    1. SHG Post author

      Oh, for crying out loud.

      Or colleges, like Ohio State…

      Am I not allowed an analogy once in a while? Ohio State got the truck. Cut me a break.

  2. John

    There was a story last night on Yahoo about a 17-year old highschooler who was tazed in school by a police officer and is now in a coma. This just adds to what you are saying which is that we are putting police in positions that they never should have been. Police are supposed to “protect and serve” but when we give them military equipment the officers who use them will begin to act like boys playing war (and I would probably too if I could play with these toys for free). As a country it would seem we need to have a discussion about what we think the police are supposed to do and then execute based on that. If as a country we decide that militarizing the police is the way to go (and I would hope we don’t) then fine, but we shouldn’t be militarizing them just because we have some extra equipment lying around.

  3. Jack

    I understand the sheer awesomeness of driving an MRAP, but really – WTF? The entire reason the MRAP was built and deployed was to withstand LARGE anti-tank mines and IEDs made from things like 155mm Artillery shells. Why the hell would the police need these things? I don’t seem to recall reading anything about upstate New York having any missing anti-tank mines or roadside bombs or pissed off citizens with RPGs?

    On a side note, it is probably going to end up killing a few police officers (or pedestrians or motorists) when they inevitably flip an MRAP… The only death in my friend’s Marine company during their deployment in Iraq was due to a flipped MRAP.

    Feel free to delete this, but I have a feeling this is the only thing the police will be using the MRAP for:

    1. SHG Post author

      How can you worry about high center of gravity flipping issues which will likely kill cops who aren’t equipped or interested in driving safely when it’s just so totally awesome?

      And there isn’t a chance in the world I would delete that video. None.

    2. Michael

      That video is 42 seconds of awesome. Back on topic, I look forward to reading about one of these things demolishing an innocent neighbor’s car while serving a warrant for failure to appear in traffic court.

  4. drouse

    You could always sell them to the guys who build monster trucks. Crush a few cars, some pryo for the IEDs and you’re in business. I can hear the TV ads already.

    1. Bruce Coulson

      Sorry, but some guys in Minnesota beat you to it; Drive a Tank (no link per rules [Ed. Note: But then, I have the keys so I can do whatever I please]) lets you rent a tank and drive over cars, smash into walls, everything but fire the main gun. (Darn regulators, ruining everyone’s fun…) Some government support, and they could have a franchise in every state.

  5. Canvasback

    I’m of two minds on this. The echoes in my tin foil hat tell me that this is how the architects of our enslavement disperse military hardware throughout the nation. The business realist in me sees a bunch of white elephants gobbling up police budgets through maintenance while accomplishing nothing.

    1. SHG Post author

      But imagine the fun kids would have climbing on them at elementary school DARE assemblies, with or without loaded weapons? What about the children!

      1. Nigel Declan

        Yeah, a shame the Chino police department only had a puny motorcycle and loaded rifle, as opposed to a MRAP with a machine gun to show off to those school children.

  6. Jim Majkowski

    “It’s armored. It’s heavy. It’s intimidating. And it’s free,” Could anyone who could possibly be elected sheriff anywhere say something that better indicates just how unsuited he is to have control of such hardware?

    As links are forbidden, I provide only this, which I stole from someone else:

    Stephen Downing, who worked in the same LAPD patrol bureau as Daryl Gates while Gates was developing his SWAT idea, explains how the move to smaller police departments makes already dangerous SWAT raids even more perilous. “You’d have this ‘I want one too’ phenomenon,” Downing says. “And so the SWAT teams get bigger, and they start to spread. And standards would start to drop. You have to be very careful about who you put on the SWAT team. The guys who want it most are the last ones who should be given a spot. At LAPD, you were choosing from a force of nine thousand strong. You’re getting elite, disciplined officers, and the pool is big enough that you can screen them. For fitness and marksmanship and all the usual stuff. But also for attitude and psychology.

    (emphasis added)

    BTW, I was kinda hoping you’d post something about this, which I earlier saw elsewhere.

      1. Jim Majkowski

        That I don’t know, being not yet ambitious enough to read the book. I got (filched) it from Windypundit (Mark Draughn), part 4 of his review of the book (forbidden link: [deleted]). If he was quoting from the book, he didn’t make it explicit, nor did he provide a page citation.

    1. John

      Jim, the sheriff is only unsuitable for the position if you believe that the job of the police is protect and serve. It seems that as these stories grow more and more people are questioning the direction of the police in general, but for now the majority of voters will never experience the dangers that can, do and will continue to occur as the police militarize.

      1. SHG Post author

        I think the discussion here is far more sophisticated than that, and Jim (and probably most other readers here) is well aware.

      2. Jim Majkowski

        John, to split hairs, my belief as to anything is hardly dispositive of anyone’s suitability for any given task. I do think Mr. Downing’s position was well taken and may well be applicable to Sheriff Apple, about whom I know only what was printed in this post. On reflection, he might be great at his job and his (IMHO) unfortunate statement was an anomalous gaffe.

        The good sheriff’s remarks remind me of my Army service, where many of my fellow EM’s thought of the tracked vehicles and 5 ton tactical trucks as fun things to drive, whereas I even then thought of them as tools which demanded careful attention. Maybe that’s why my commanders would send me, not one of them, when they sent only one man on a driving job.

        And, Scott, thanks for the generous words. I don’t miss your posts.

        1. John

          Jim, I did not mean to imply that you thought any one way, the you was a general you, so no offense was meant. And I agree with you regarding Mr. Downing. There should be concern regarding people who want to be in positions of authority especially where that position comes with a gun. As Mr. Downing indicates there are people who are great police officers and great SWAT officers, but some people are unable to handle the power and responsibility that comes with those positions. I have not yet had the pleasure to serve in the military, but I’m sure seeing 18 year olds with freedom they have never had in control of awesome machinery which can cause devastating results when misused and not respected is not unusual.

          1. Jim Majkowski

            I took no offense, was just funning you, and am too vain to miss a chance to brag about my prowess with the medium rigs I drove while wearing a pickle suit (it was that long ago!). It’s been fun. I appreciate your earnestness, and hope you keep reading (and recommending to others?) this great blawg.

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