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Rumors are flying on the internet alleging that the US army helped DHS retrofit 2,700 military Mine Resistant Armored Protection vehicles for domestic use. According to Georgia Congressman Paul Broun, the rumor is false.
Someone took a press release from Navistar stating they were retrofitting 2,717 MRAPs (Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected vehicles) for the Army, and a video from DHS featuring a Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) MRAP and explaining how CBP uses the vehicles, and combined them to imply that DHS was buying thousands of these vehicles for domestic use.
The fact is that DHS has 32 MRAPs with no plans for further acquisition. 16 are with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, used in support of ICE Special Response Teams (SRT); and 16 are with Customs and Border Protection, used in support of CBP border tactical units. These are used for high-risk situations where the SRTs or CBP is likely to need cover from gunfire, such as serving high-risk warrants or breaking into heavily armed drug cells. These were all given to them by the Army out of their inactive stock at no cost, and DHS has no intent to procure any more.
I'm glad to hear that DHS does not have 2,717 MRAPs, but it has 32, which apparently are concentrated in the border region, where congress has tentative plans to boost its militarized enforcement. But do we need these armored trucks at all? And for what purpose?
The DHS officer in the video above talks about how the military-turned-domestic truck he is showing off in an El Paso Target parking lot is used in SWAT raids to serve warrants. Is that truly necessary? According to some figures, SWAT team raids have increased from about a few hundred a year in the early 1970s to about 80,000 per year today. Meanwhile, crime rates are declining.
The DHS MRAPs are military vehicles painted black for 'civilian' use, but a Massachusetts-based company makes armored personnel carriers explicitly designed for domestic law enforcement. These so-called 'BearCats' were on full display here in Boston back in April, when SWAT teams from across the state descended on Watertown to look for the younger Tsarnaev in the wake of the marathon bombing. The BearCats cost about a quarter of a million dollars a pop; typically local law enforcement buys them with federal assistance from DHS.
How many armored personnel carriers do we really need? And do we want to continue to blur the lines between police and military? At what point do we stop? Which military technologies would not be suitable for domestic use?
If you see one of these MRAPs in your city or town, let me know.