Does the Dallas County Sheriff's Office really need a military-grade mine-resistant SUV designed to withstand insurgent bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan? Almost certainly not, but with the federal government literally giving them away as part of its program to militarize local law enforcement agencies, it seemed a shame to pass up. And as deputy James Bledsoe approvingly noted of his 160-mile trip back with the MRAP (i.e. mine-resistant, ambush protected) from Fort Hood almost two years ago, the vehicle "exceeded expectations."
Recently, we got to wondering what exactly the sheriff's office is doing with its $600,000 U.S. Army castoff. Big picture: Not much. The MRAP's log, which we obtained through an open records request and posted below, shows all of eight deployments to such warzone-esque locales as First Baptist Church of Sunnyvale, where it was apparently used to put the fear of God in attendees of the annual spring celebration. It was also used as a prop at an April 21 press conference, made a trip to the gun range, and made appearances at at a community events at Valley Creek Park in Mesquite and Reagan Elementary in Dallas. The closest its come to seeing action was on May 5, when it was deployed to assist on a barricaded person call in Lancaster.
The MRAP did, however, almost see action a few days before the Lancaster assist. According to the log, it was checked out at 7:40 p.m. on April 30 to "stage for potential protest event on 5-1-15." In case you have trouble keeping your police brutality protests straight, this would have been the response to Freddie Gray's death at the hands of Baltimore police.
The vehicle didn't actually make an appearance at the protests, but it was kept on the ready between the south and west towers of the Lew Sterrett Justice Center "in case the situation or protests developed into a dangerous or violent situation," sheriff's office spokesman Raul Reyna says in an email. "Neither the team nor the MRAP were within the area of the protesters and were not out in public view as to not heighten the situation or the protesters. It was available if needed but the protest was peaceful and did not require our officers being called out or use of any equipment."
Reyna says the decision to put the vehicle on standby was made by the commander of the sheriff's office tactical (e.g. SWAT) team in consultation with sheriff's office commanders.
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Even if the protests had turned violent, events last year in Ferguson, where police in military gear and heavily armored vehicles further inflamed a volatile situation, heightens questions about whether such equipment is ever appropriate for civilian crowd control. Then there's the truism that, if a law enforcement agency has a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle, it is more likely to use a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle, even when it would have handled a situation differently in the past. The vehicle log, and the sheriff's office MRAP policy, are below.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.