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Editorial: Johnson County's MRAP could prove useful

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 19, 2014 5:00 AM

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Johnson County’s acquisition of a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle has received a lot of attention, which isn’t surprising. The site of a gigantic, six-wheeled, military-grade vehicle on domestic soil is typically a sign of dangerous times, some sort of natural disaster or, as Hollywood would have us believe, an alien invasion. Considering the prior, disregarding the latter, and expanding the discussion, such vehicles — specifically weaponless models assigned for rescue and recovery — do have their uses. The free vehicle’s intended use and essentially nonexistent offensive combat capability make the decision to accept it from the Department of Defense a reasonable move.

While the transport was, at some point, purchased with federal money, it was a fairly low cost investment for the county to make. The county only paid for the transportation of the vehicle and the work done to paint it for use by local law enforcement and emergency response, costing, in total, less than a used 2010 Camry. Sweetening the deal, those two low costs were covered with forfeited drug money, making the entire transaction gratis for taxpayers. The cost of using the behemoth will inevitably vary based on how active of a future it sees, but a little money for gas and training in its use could make a huge difference in an emergency situation such as — as unfortunate is it is to acknowledge — a school shooting.  

Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek explained to The Daily Iowan a hypothetical situation in which having access to such a vehicle would prove useful. If, in such a situation, officers manage to isolate a shooter away from students and teachers, it would be possible to herd them into the bullet-resistant vehicle and transport and away from danger. Weighing about as much as a fully loaded cement truck, it can travel on roads without issue, which aids in responding as quickly as possible.

An armored transport vehicle obviously is not singlehandedly capable of preventing violent attacks in schools, but while the country figures out how to solve problems relating to gun control and psychological health, having the means to respond in a dangerous shooting situation is purely beneficial.

While Pulkrabek did describe violent situations in the past in which having such a vehicle would have aided law enforcement, it seems that the bulk of its use will come from its capabilities as an all-terrain vehicle. The vehicle is capable of traveling through deep snow and pushing through floodwaters — common, borderline-expected issues of living in the Midwest. It will be shared by six law-enforcement entities in Johnson County.

Wariness over county ownership of such a monstrously large and powerful vehicle is mildly understandable and probably mostly based on aesthetics. The most memorable images of such vehicles in action come from hectically active reporting on conflict in the Middle East — often a reporter in a helmet and bulletproof vest cringing behind one of the giants while screaming into a microphone as 50-caliber machinegun fire crackles in the background.

Thankfully, Iowa isn’t a war zone. While the armored vehicle could be fitted for active combat — it is a retired military vehicle — it’s not. Imagining that the transport will someday be outfitted to promote some sort of power-crazy police militarization is highly fantastical, borderline paranoid thinking.

Because it’s already been paid for and purchased by the Department of Defense, making use of the vehicle in ways that promote public safety is the logical option. The other, more barbaric option would be to tear it apart and sell it for scrap.

We’ll have to wait and see whether the newest addition to the state’s fleet of refitted military vehicles proves useful. As Pulkrabek made clear in the interview, it’s not something law enforcement wants to have to use. Still, it’s not a bad deal having it around.


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