Utah County Sheriff’s Office Acquires Military Vehicle
Libertas Institute received word yesterday from a concerned citizen that there was a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle sitting in a parking lot in Provo.
The military vehicle, seen in the photo above, arrived just days ago at the Utah County Public Works facility, to soon be delivered to the sheriff’s office.
Like other MRAPs being distributed by the Pentagon to communities around the country, this one was obtained through the “1033 program” whereby the federal government provides local law enforcement agencies with surplus military gear—everything from MRAPS and helicopters to automatic weapons, handguns, and first aid gear.
Late last year, we submitted an open records request to obtain information regarding what police forces throughout Utah had obtained as part of this program. Our request was denied for specious reasons (we later obtained aggregated information on appeal). Seeing our denial, Salt Lake Tribune reporter Nate Carlisle submitted a similar request, but rather than sending it to the state government, he sent it to the feds.
That inquiry led to a report that received national coverage, highlighting the steady flow of military gear from the federal government to American communities, large and small.
When we first approached an employee at the Public Works facility, our questions were met with extreme defensiveness. “Why do you care?” responded one staff member. When we expressed that many people are concerned about police militarization, and that Utah taxpayers have the right to know, the same employee replied: “Well, no taxes were used on it. We got it for free.”
That’s not really true, of course—even assuming Utah County spent no money on the MRAP, federal taxes were still used to purchase it. But another government employee revealed to us that money had in fact been spent—though the MRAP was itself free, Utah County was required to pay for shipping it to their facility at a cost of upwards of $20,000. Additionally, local taxpayers will be required to fund the ongoing maintenance of this military vehicle which, as admitted by multiple staffers yesterday, will receive very little use.
In fact, Utah County has had an Armored Personnel Carrier for two decades that, we were told, has only been used 7-8 times.
The MRAP delivered to Utah County is one of many now readily available for use throughout Utah; numerous law enforcement agencies in the state possess this style of vehicle. This one appeared to be in near-pristine condition, with no visible signs of use. The sheriff’s office will have to figure out how to use it—the Pentagon offers no training to police departments when it gives the vehicles away. Presumably they will also be training with it should the alleged need arise to actively use it somewhere in Utah County in the future.
There is potential legislation at the federal level to overhaul the 1033 program, with recognition that military gear that was designed for the battlefield may not be appropriate for American neighborhoods. An op-ed co-authored by the legislation’s sponsor opens with a summary of the situation:
Something potentially sinister is happening across America, and we should stop and take notice before it changes the character of our country forever. County, city and small-town police departments across the country are now acquiring free military-grade weapons that could possibly be used against the very citizens and taxpayers that not only fund their departments but who the police are charged with protecting.
Many concerned citizens have “stopped and noticed”—and to further the conversation, the subject of police militarization, and the 1033 program specifically, will be discussed at our Fourth Amendment Forum later this month. Utah County Sheriff Tracy is one of the panelists, along with the Attorney General, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, a former SWAT team leader, and an attorney from ACLU’s national office.
One more thing - who SHOULD be picking up the tab for policing Utah County? Should that expense fall upon the federal government? Or should the citizens of the county pay their own way? If we remember the principle of self-reliance, we would say that people are responsible for their own expenses. In this case, the feds "took a loss" on their equipment, on behalf of the whole nation, rather than selling the equipment for a fair market sum and returning that value to the taxpayer. Instead they "chose" a winner of this windfall, the Utah County Sheriffs. This is not a principled use of federal funds; federal funds are for the GENERAL welfare, not for the specific welfare of an individual county.
And the dear Sheriff's opinion at the 4th Amendment Forum, was to pooh-pooh the idea that the police are becoming militarized. Well, how's this for a definition? When an organization receives military gear, with the intent of using it, it is now a de facto military organization. What strings are attached from the federal level when a state benefits from the federal largesse? We talk about the corrupting influence of money, and at the same time, we accept federal largesse and think it doesn't purchase influence? Of course the sheriff is no longer an impartial observer, with his allegiance solely to the practice of his craft within the confines of his county, now he has been bought off - now he is beholden not only to the citizens of the county he serves, but has a feeling of obligation to defend his acceptance of the federal bounty.
I can hardly wait to hear what the "Fourth Amendment Forum" panelists think about the 1033 program. A program which allows every police department in this country to order military-grade weapons for the price of shipping and handling paid by the taxpayer. I'm 100% positive that our tax dollars could and should be better used elsewhere.