BRPD, State Police get armored military troop carriers

It’s hard to find a good vehicle, either new or used, with only 5,000 miles for $15,000 in Baton Rouge.

But for that amount, the Police Department and State Police each recently purchased an 18-ton, armored military troop carrier built to survive roadside bomb explosions in Iraq.

Now, the hulking Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected Vehicles, or MRAPs, will rumble through the streets of Louisiana, with officials hoping the sheer size of the mechanical beasts will serve as a deterrent in situations in which force may have been used in the past.

“From a deterrent standpoint, you roll up into a situation where you’ve got a crowd or you’ve got people who want to do harm or want to disrupt, and you bring in something like this, it brings it a higher element,” State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson said as he eyeballed the newest weapon in his arsenal.

“Those people will sit there and say, “Wow, I need to think about this.’ ”

“You’re dealing with a criminal element in Louisiana that is highly sophisticated, has weaponry, has some of the resources we don’t have,” Edmonson added. “This helps level the field with some of those elements.”

The MRAPs were built for about $500,000 each at the height of the Iraq war and purchased by agencies through the Department of Defense’s Excess Property Program, known as the 1033 program.

Earlier this year, the military distributed 165 surplus MRAPs to law enforcement agencies across the country.

More than 700 law enforcement agencies are on a waiting list for one.

The vehicles’ distinct V-shaped hulls would spread the blast from improvised explosive devices out from under the side of the vehicles, shielding the troops inside.

The MRAPs were credited with drastically reducing injuries and fatalities in IED attacks.

Standing more than 20 feet tall with armor thick enough to stop a .50-caliber bullet, the vehicles have enough ground clearance to roll through about 3 feet of water and feature a winch that can move just about any objects blocking the vehicle’s path, officers say.

Providing local law enforcement agencies with such military equipment has been controversial, with organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union criticizing what it sees as the increasing militarization of the nation’s police.

“One of our concerns with this is that it has a tendency to escalate violence,” ACLU Center for Justice senior counsel Kara Dansky said.

Across the country, some agencies have used their MRAPs more as a defensive tool than an offensive weapon.

In Boise, Idaho, police reported using their MRAP more than two weeks ago to serve a warrant, saying they had evidence the suspect might be heavily armed and have explosives.

Authorities said they found 100 pounds of bomb-making material and two guns.

A second MRAP from nearby Nampa’s police department was used to shield officers and neighbors from a possible explosion.

“It’s something that if we pull it out, we gotta be prepared to use it,” Edmonson said. “When it’s in use, it’s a serious situation.”

Those serious situations range from hostage and standoff situations to serving high-risk warrants to conducting search and rescue operations during and after natural disasters.

The latter possibility is what really interested Edmonson, especially in an area slammed by several high-powered hurricanes over the past decade.

While conducting operations during hurricanes, Edmonson said he learned law enforcement is hampered by that fact that a lot of vehicles they use sit low to the ground, making traversing flooded areas almost impossible.

The MRAP’s high ground clearance and winch give them access to areas impenetrable by car.

“Sometimes minutes can equate to lives,” he said.

Officials across the country were happy to receive their MRAPs and those in Louisiana were no different.

“I’ve been doing this for 19 years and I was excited when we got that,” Sgt. Bryan Taylor, supervisor of the Baton Rouge Police Department Special Response Team, said, pointing to the department’s Lenco BearCat, a commonly used SWAT vehicle.

“So adding something else, it’s pretty neat. What I’m excited about is that it gives us more options when we go out somewhere in that we can use it as an armored vehicle no matter the size or anything,”

But the trucks do have some limitations.

They are too big to travel on some bridges and roads, Then there’s some cost of retrofitting them for civilian use. Plus, they are costly to operate. The 36,000-pound behemoths get about 5 miles to the gallon.

State Police spokesman Capt. Doug Cain said it will cost that agency about $10,000 to retrofit their MRAP.

Baton Rouge police officials said they felt their costs would not be high but could not provide a dollar amount.

The six-wheeled tan MRAP purchased by Baton Rouge police will be painted their familiar blue, while State Police opted to stick with conventional, albeit menacing, black paint for its four-wheeled counterpart.

Officials for both agencies say they hope to fit 10-12 fully-equipped officers inside once the inside is stripped of unnecessary equipment left over from the military.

Even though both are unfinished, Cain and Taylor say their MRAPs could be deployed today if the situations called for it.

Cain said the State Police MRAP should be done by Jan. 1. Taylor said he did not have a time line for the completing the retrofit of the city police’s MRAP.

Metro Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis questioned whether the money could have been better used for other purposes and wondered where money for upkeep fits into the city-parish’s annual budget.

“When you buy a car, you’re going to want to know what the maintenance costs, does that fit into my budget also?” Collins-Lewis said.

Count Metro Councilman John Delgado as a fan of the purchases, calling them a “no-brainer,” especially at the price the departments paid.

“You can sit right now and say, ‘We don’t need that,’ and it’s easy to do that, to make that criticism,” Delgado said.

“But we won’t know what we need it for until that opportunity arises and when that opportunity arises, we paid so little to able to capitalize on that opportunity that it makes absolute sense to do so.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.