A sheriff’s department in a remote rural California county with just 18,000 people, no incorporated towns, few sworn officers, and almost no crime, was able to secure a second military-grade MRAP armored vehicle in 2017 by giving brief responses to a simple questionnaire, according to documents obtained in the context of access to information requests.
MRAP stands for Mine Resistant Ambush, although the prospect of encountering mines or being ambushed seems unlikely even in the most difficult US police constituencies.
The documents, provided to the Guardian by the transparency nonprofit Property of the People, show how quickly Donald Trumps in 2017 reversing the Barack Obama administrations restriction on the transfer of battlefield equipment to forces. of order has led to their renewed proliferation, and how far agencies have had to go to demonstrate any real need for them.
The documents include the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) request for the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) second MRAP. The application in September 2017, about a month after Trump rescinded a 2015 Obama executive order that prohibited the transfer of equipment such as armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and high caliber weapons to civilian agencies.
With one-line or one-paragraph answers to 15 questions, the rural county sheriff was able to add the vehicle to his already existing MRAP Mamba, acquired in 2014.
Since 1997, the 1033 program has turned over $ 7.4 billion in Department of Defense (DoD) surplus equipment to more than 8,000 law enforcement agencies across America.
The program has been identified as a major contributor to the militarization of the national police forces who, since the program’s inception in 1997, have been able to obtain military grade weapons and tactical equipment free of charge from the DoD, with their contribution limited to transport. of equipment and routine maintenance.
Obama had restricted the flow of combat equipment after opposition to the militarization of the police was focused by the initial mobilization of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The MCSO had already received a Mamba-wheeled tactical vehicle from the DLA in 2014. The acquisition of the second vehicle required them to seek a waiver of the policy limiting allocations to one MRAP by law enforcement agency.
They did this by giving brief answers to a series of questions. In these responses, MCSO revealed that there were only 39 full-time paid peace officers and nine part-time peace officers; that the central county of California was a remote mountainous region with no incorporated cities; that the present population was only 18,251 inhabitants; and that much of the county is in Yosemite National Park.
Nonetheless, in the request signed by Sheriff Douglas A Binnewies, the MCSO argued that a second armored vehicle was essential to the agency’s work, as the nearest Swat teams are over an hour away and that a tactical vehicle is parked at two different locations in the county. would greatly improve response time.
The request also points out that Mariposa County was located within the jurisdiction of Central Valley California HIDTA. The federal designation of HIDTA, or High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, has, since 1990, mandated coordination and cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
HIDTAs were implemented under the authority of the Drug Abuse Act 1988, a central part of the so-called war on drugs, which has increased penalties for drug-related offenses, instituted mandatory minimum sentences and is criticized for increasing the disproportionate imprisonment of black men. in all the countries.
In approving the California agency’s request, DLA spoke of the need to prepare for emergency response for Irma, the approaching hurricane, which hit Florida that month.
Despite the MCSO’s invocation of Swat and drug trafficking teams, statistics for the state of California suggest that Mariposa County has little crime overall and certainly very little violent crime.
According to figures from the California Department of Justice (CDoJ), the county has only seen three homicides since 2010, all in 2012.
In 2017, the year the MCSO requested the new MRAP, the county had only three violent robberies: one with a gun and two armed robberies. In 2019, there were only two violent robberies.
2017 was a relatively bad year for violent crime in the county: over the past 10 years, it recorded an average of 74 violent crimes per year, and that year it had 108. But according to the numbers of the CDoJ, almost all were aggravated assault (96) or rape (nine), crimes that would not require a tactical response.
The year 2019 saw only 79 violent crimes, including all but two of either aggravated assault or rape.
While California does not offer parallel statistics on drug-related offenses, the state only recorded 18 arrests for drug-related offenses in 2017 and 34 in 2019.
Asked in an email about its offices’ use of MRAPs, Binneweis wrote: We have used these ballistic vehicles for high-risk search warrants, where guns are said to be present (and located).
Despite the federal cooperation sought in the request, Binneweis admitted that, to my recollection, we did not use the ballistic vehicles in a joint federal operation or response.
Asked about the very low crime rates in the county, Binneweis replied: Mariposa County prides itself on being a very safe county. It is the product of a lot of energy and effort from our community and local law enforcement.
He added, however, that MPs respond to some 70 calls a day, noting that Mariposa County is a rural and agricultural county where guns are common in most households. Many of these guns are scoped long guns, which confirms the need to protect our law enforcement agencies, whether federal, state or local with ballistic vehicles.
When asked about the timing of the request relative to the Trump administration’s policy, Binneweis wrote: I believe we noticed that [the transfer of MRAPs] had restarted under President Trump.
He added: I’m glad the program is active again. Of course, that depends on how you use it and what kind of relationship local law enforcement agencies have with their community.
In an email, Ryan Shapiro of Property of the People wrote: There is simply no legitimate basis for the supply of one, let alone two, heavily armored military vehicles from the Pentagon to the Sheriff’s Department of a sparsely populated rural California county.
He added: The ongoing militarization of the US police force threatens us all and paves the way for authoritarian rule.
The supply of military equipment to local law enforcement became an issue during the 2020 presidential campaign. Joe Biden, who as a senator voted for the law authorizing the 1033 program, proposing to stop transferring weapons war against police forces, and Trump doubling down on his policing rhetoric by sending militarized federal agents to police protests in cities like Portland.
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