ROCKVILLE – To paraphrase Bill Murray in “Stripes” the Montgomery County Police have one heavily armored urban assault vehicle.
Police spokesman Paul Starks said the department received the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle (MRAP) in July as the latest gift from the Department of Defense’s Military Equipment Excess (1033) program.
According to Department of Defense statistics, the county police department has received more than $4 million in military equipment since 2006. Department of Defense spokesman Mark Wright said various police departments across the state have received more than $12 million worth of military equipment including 2,000 assault rifles, 873 semiautomatic handguns and 220 12-gauge shotguns.
Local police didn’t dispute the figures, but said those figures do not include the equipment the police give back to the Department of Defense.
Wright said the equipment given to MCPD includes rifles, night vision goggles, digital cameras, a gun cleaning kit, two combat knives, a blanket and the new armored vehicle. Public information officer Paul Starks confirmed the department has a mine resistant ambush protected vehicle.
The vehicle is valued at more than $400,000 but the department received it free of charge. Both the police and Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services use the MRAP, according to an information bulletin released by the Public Information Office.
In addition to the new MRAP, MCPD has two smaller armored vehicles. According to the bulletin, the department has used armored vehicles for more than 20 years.
“It should be noted the department does not use these vehicles for crowd control purposes or in protest situations,” The bulletin said. “We are one of many large metropolitan police departments in the country who have this type of equipment. As part of the National Capital Region Council of Governments and our mutual aid agreements, the department recognizes that we may be called upon to assist surrounding jurisdictions with the use of these vehicles.”
Starks said the armored vehicle would be used in active shooter situations, hostage situations, or situations that involve a bomb or explosive device. Would the department use the vehicle in a situation similar to what occurred in Ferguson, Missouri? “I’m not going to speculate,” Starks said. “We released the three situations it would be used in.”
Starks said he is unsure how many of these situations have occurred in the past 20 years.
“In an active shooter situation when citizens are injured after they’ve been shot and you can’t just go get them because you’re still in an area where you can be shot, this vehicle, because it has some armor on it, is able to be driven to that location and the citizens who have been shot and injured can be collected to get life-saving treatment,” Starks said.
Starks said the numbers released by the military don’t reflect the amount of equipment MCPD has returned to the military.
“There have been numerous items returned after they became nonessential or not a part of our strategy,” Starks said.
According to “War Comes Home,” a recent report published by the ACLU, 62 percent of SWAT team raids in American are done for drug-related searches. Data from the Maryland Statistical Analysis Center show state law enforcement agencies have conducted more than 6,500 SWAT raids since 2010. The data shows since 2010 Montgomery County has conducted 418 raids, the third-highest number of raids in the state, while Prince George’s County, at the state’s highest number, has conducted nearly 1,200.
In a response to the ACLU report, President Barack Obama has ordered a review of the 1033 program. The review will be done by the White House and Congress and will analyze how appropriate the programs are, whether they are being correctly audited and whether police are receiving the necessary training to use the equipment correctly.
“I think one of the great things about the United States has been our ability to maintain a distinction between our military and domestic law enforcement,” Obama said. “That helps preserve our civil liberties. That helps ensure that the military is accountable to civilian direction. And that has to be preserved. After 9/11, I think, understandably, a lot of folks saw local communities that were ill equipped for a potential catastrophic terrorist attack. And people in Congress, people of goodwill, decided we’ve got to make sure they get proper equipment to deal with threats that historically wouldn’t arise in local communities.”