In the last few years, Washington state has received shipments of mine resistant vehicles that were used in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
They’re pricey (about $650,000), and they’re tough to drive, but 17 police agencies have one to call their own. Each one weighs about 50,000 pounds.
The mine resistant vehicles, or MRAPS, are just some of the military surplus items assigned to police departments across the country. Here in Washington state, police departments have received everything from shop vacs to lightly armored, amphibious carriers ($204,500) to ballistic dog goggles ($20).
But the MRAPs stand out, because practically speaking, what does a local department do with an MRAP? We asked Paul Smith, who owns Smith Integrated Technologies in Arkansas.
Smith is an experienced military trainer who works with police departments and agencies who have MRAPs.
“The majority of the time when I show up at these police departments, the truck is parked out back. No one’s driven it. Obviously for liability reasons and lack of training so it basically sat there,” Smith said.
For a fee, Smith will train department officers on how to operate and maintain the vehicles. Smith says his training mostly focuses on rescue scenarios like evacuations.
He said the vehicles come with an 18,000-pound winch which can effectively pull a house off the foundation.
“I was in New Jersey training the military when they went through their flood,” he said. “If [New Jersey] they had had a vehicle of this magnitude they would have been able to egress people off of housing areas, bring food and water to people.”
They can also be used in active shooter situations as a tactical vehicle.
The MRAPs have been through a war and it’s likely they were heavily used. None of the Washington state agencies that have an MRAP returned our call to discuss the condition of their machine.
Smith said that finding replacement parts could be a problem, as the vehicles are out of production.
“The vehicles that are left are being cannibalized not only by the military but also by law enforcement so it’s becoming increasingly hard to find parts for these vehicles,” Smith said.
Servicing them can be expensive. Smith says he got a call from an agency that had cleaned its MRAP for a parade and used ammonia-based chemicals to clean the ballistic glass in the front two windows.
Turns out, the ammonia breaks down the compounds that make up the bulletproof glass, and created a purple haze effect, essentially making it impossible to see. They had to replace the glass to the tune of $2,500 a glass.
MRAPs are not easy to drive. It takes two people and driving one requires a special class B license. Smith says often they’re not being used at all.
Knowing how to operate the vehicle safely is imperative. They’re not designed for visibility, in fact it’s impossible to see out the left hand side where the tires meet the road, Smith said. They can crush just about anything in their path.
Smith said that in Iraq and Afghanistan, people scatter when they see an MRAP. Here, when people see one – typically in a parade – they want to touch it, Smith said. They walk toward it.