It can also go the speed limit down Interstate 20.
On Oct. 8 a mine-resistant ambush protection vehicle, or MRAP, made its way from Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Miss., to the grassy lot behind the Sheriff’s Office.
According to Sgt. Don Hamm, fleet manager for the Sheriff’s Office, Calhoun County’s MRAP is one of seven in the state — the others being in the possession of the law enforcement agencies of Trussville, Oxford, Cullman, the city of Madison, Chilton County and the Alabama Department of Public Safety.
Hamm requested the MRAP from the U.S. Department of Defense Law Enforcement Support Office in Battle Creek, Mich., in September, he said. Because of its heavy armor, deputies will be able to use it in search-and-rescue operations, hostage situations and criminal investigations.
According to Hamm, the Law Enforcement Support Office offers surplus defense equipment to federal and local law enforcement agencies through what is known as a 1033 program.
Lt. Herb Rosenbaum of the Trussville Police Department, the coordinator for Alabama’s 1033 program, said a major benefit of the program is that all the items are free. That gives any law enforcement agency an equal chance to beef up, regardless of its financial situation, he said, as long as the agencies provide justification for requesting the item, he said.
“My assumption is that most departments cannot afford to purchase the depth of what’s available. What you’re seeing is just part of the program — the MRAP is just one vehicle. You can get everything and anything you can think of,” Rosenbaum said.
Aside from vehicles, the program donates tents, computers, cameras, radios, televisions, body armor, night-vision goggles, first-aid supplies and fingerprint equipment. The program has gotten requests for toilet paper to be used in prisons, Rosenbaum said. If the items don’t go to law enforcement agencies, they’re either destroyed or sold at a very low rate, he said.
Though the free equipment from the military has proven helpful to law enforcement officials, questions have been raised as to whether these agencies need the equipment they are requesting. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union have suggested the 1033 program is causing law enforcement agencies to become more militarized.
According to its website, since March 6, the ACLU has filed more than 260 public records requests with law enforcement agencies to learn whether this program has fueled the militarization of local law enforcement agencies.
The website also lists 10 circumstances in which the group believes military equipment was used irresponsibly. In one case a SWAT team in Detroit threw a military flash bomb through a home’s window. Because of their confusion from the bright lights and smoke, officers accidentally shot a 7-year-old girl through the neck.
Including the MRAP, the Sheriff’s Office has five Humvees, two armed personnel carriers, three tractors, two trailers and other surplus equipment through 1033, Hamm said.
Rosenbaum said the 1033 program is not a way to militarize the police.
“The objective with this equipment is to make the police more efficient,” he said, adding one thing agencies can get through the program is night-vision goggles.
“What better way to find a missing person at night than with night-vision goggles?” he said.
Deputy Matthew Hohnenbrink, an Army veteran, was an MRAP truck commander during his time in Afghanistan. He said he is confident in the MRAP’s tactical abilities and its ability to get anywhere, even in the roughest terrains.
“No small arms can penetrate it,” Hohnenbrink said. “I would feel totally comfortable sticking my face behind the glass and telling somebody on the other side, ‘I dare you to shoot.’ The armor makes it ideal for hostage situations and shooters. Nothing’s going to go through,” he said.
Rosenbaum said even though certain military items are stationed at one agency, he strongly encourages mutual aid, which he said has been put into practice in Calhoun County.
During the search for Carla Cook Fuqua in 2012, the Sheriff’s Office used a Humvee to assist Piedmont police and in 2011, used an armed personnel carrier to assist Anniston police in the capture of Joshua Russell, later convicted in the shooting death of Anniston police officer Justin Sollohub.
Hamm said surplus military vehicles can help law enforcement agencies in a variety of ways.
“If we have to do a search and rescue they can go where our regular patrol vehicles cannot. If we have bad weather we can use them to get people to the hospital or doctors and nurses to certain destinations,” he said. “They’re a great asset to the Sheriff’s Office.”
Staff writer Madasyn Czebiniak: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @MCzebiniak_Star.