Stillwater News Press

Local News

January 17, 2014

Vehicle aids Sheriff’s Office in critical response situations

STILLWATER, Okla. — It’s a bird, it’s a plane.

No, it’s a 29-ton steel Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle.

The Payne County Sheriff’s Office acquired the MRAP from McAlester, home of the Defense Department’s largest explosive storage facility.

The military wouldn’t disclose the MRAP’s former home, probably because it’s designed to survive explosive devices, attacks and ambushes on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan. It came with two bullet holes on the back door window and just 2,000 miles on it.

Ex-military mechanic Jeff Kramer said it was likely used as a medivac vehicle to transport soldiers to a hospital. Kramer works for Payne County as a mechanic.

MRAP construction began in the 1980s, and took off in the early 2000s, when billions were allocated to build them because of improvised explosive devices rampant in Iraq. The unique V-shaped hull is designed to deflect an upward blast.

Payne County Sheriff’s Capt. Kevin Woodward said the Sheriff’s Office won’t need the 3,000 pounds of rocket-propelled grenades hoisted on the sides.

It saved lives on the battlefield, and officers said it could save lives in Payne County.

Kramer said in an instance of an active shooter, the MRAP allows for a safe stand-off distance from the attacker.

In the interior is an opening for a turret, with a rotating sniper post and tiny bullet-deflective windows.

At a distance, the goal is to neutralize the situation, Kramer said.

One way the county could use the vehicle is for natural disaster rescue — tornadoes, floods and fires.

The MRAP can sustain almost any environment to retrieve victims of a natural disaster like the tornadoes in Moore and Carney.

On the side door is something that looks like a submarine snorkel. It can go underwater for up to 8 feet. The cabin can be pressurized much like an airplane that seats 12 people. A filtration system seals off air in case of a chemical attack. It’s waiting to be repainted and fitted for spotlights. They’re also adding a radio system for the front passengers to communicate.

The driver’s seat is equipped with an LED thermal imaging screen for the driver to navigate in the dark, with infrared capable lights on the front. Travel-wise, it gets 5 miles to the gallon and reaches speeds up to 70 mph.

Woodward said he considered it a gift from the military the department couldn’t pass up.

Wade McMath helps to administer the MRAPS to multiple counties from his McAlester office. He declined to comment.

Programs from the military’s defense logistics agency give law enforcements across the state an option to have an MRAP, at next to no cost. Proponents argue that local responders save money on disasters vehicles, which cost more than a half-million dollars. Opponents say local law enforcement is becoming increasingly militarized.

A year ago, the American Civil Liberties Union started a nationwide investigation, filing 255 public records requests to determine to what extent local police obtained federally subsidized military technology. Oklahoma was not one of the states on the list.

“The American people deserve to know how much our local police are using military weapons and tactics for everyday policing,” said Allie Bohm, ACLU advocacy and policy strategist.

DLA spokeswoman Michelle McCaskill said agencies are given excess DOD personal property to counter drug activities and terrorism. The 1033 program was authorized in the early 1990s by the National Defense Authorization Act.

The sheriff’s office was required to meet criteria in order to obtain the military vehicle, including justification for use. Those uses could be active shooter incidents, SWAT or drug interdiction. Other factors are the ability to repair and stow the vehicle securely.

A governor-appointed state coordinator then approves or denies a request for a military vehicle, McCaskill said. Since August 2013, the Law Enforcement Support Office has transferred 193 MRAP vehicles. There are an additional 750 law enforcement agencies on the waiting list.

Woodward said the county had the second pick among four other local agencies, including Guthrie.

“For the coming year, we’ll continue to reduce crime in Payne County,”  he said.

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