NEWPORT — The Vermont State Police is one of over 160 law enforcement agencies across the nation that recently acquired an armored tactical vehicle through the Defense Department’s national military surplus program.
With the ending of the Iraq War, and the winding down of the war in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has 11,000 heavily armored vehicles that it has no use for, and one of them just came to Vermont.
The vehicle is a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle. They are designed to protect against AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and IEDs. According to a statement released by the VSP, it “can provide lifesaving support to local, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies across the state during armed confrontations or other critical incidents.”
“It’s a platform that will help troopers get close to and help defuse a dangerous situation without exposing them to life-threatening danger,” said Colonel Tom L’Esperance. “It’s a great piece of equipment, however we hope we never need it.”
Colonel L’Esperance submitted the request for the MRAP and received the vehicle in mid-December.
On learning about the new tactical vehicle Representative Donna Sweaney said, “It is imperative that Vermont is prepared for every type of crisis and we look forward to housing it at Windsor Armory. Having a tactical vehicle in the southern part of Vermont will help ensure a rapid response to critical incidents.”
But not everyone fully supports the idea of military surplus ending up in the hands of local law enforcement. In New Hampshire, State Representative J.R. Hoell, a libertarian Republican who represents Dunbarton, NH, recently introduced a bill called the Police Equipment and Community Engagement (PEACE) Act, in the state legislature.
The bill would bar state and municipal agencies in New Hampshire from buying or even accepting free offers of “military style equipment,” including MRAP’s, for police use, except with the approval of the assembled citizenry at a public town meeting.
Hoell says that we’re seeing an over militarization of the police force, and that it doesn’t lead to a better relationship between citizens and the police.
In Concord, New Hampshire, 1500 residents last fall signed a petition opposing their town’s use of a $258,000 federal Homeland Security grant to purchase a vehicle similar to the MRAP recently acquired by the VSP.