Some Wisconsin police departments are returning mine-resistant vehicles on loan from the U.S. Department of Defense and replacing them with smaller, armored emergency vehicles that they say are more appropriate for law enforcement.
The Defense Department has transferred excess military equipment and armored vehicles to law enforcement agencies through the Law Enforcement Support Office. Police departments in Superior and Madison plan to return their vehicles to the program, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. They may eventually be transferred to other law enforcement agencies.
Mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles are designed to be used by the U.S. military and are able to withstand attacks from improvised explosive devices.
The vehicles have drawn criticism regarding the militarization of police.
“I heard from citizens that they didn’t view it as an appropriate piece of equipment for the police department — that they thought we were overdoing things when we had that type of vehicle out,” said Superior Police Chief Nick Alexander.
The community perception combined with maintenance issues prompted the department to seek other options, he said. The Superior City Council recently approved the purchase of a smaller emergency operations vehicle.
The mine-resistant vehicle doesn’t meet the Madison Police Department’s law enforcement needs, said Madison Assistant Police Chief Victor Wahl.
“It’s really designed to take a small number of troops, sort of seal them up inside and then drive through a hostile area and allow them to survive if there’s small arms fire or improvised explosive devices that they drive over,” he said. “Stuff that civilian police use armored vehicles for, it needs a lot more capacity to carry people, easier access to get in and out. It needs to be a little bit more nimble and flexible for maneuverability.”
The vehicle is large, heavy and difficult to maintain, he said.
“The MRAP we got from the military, but you can’t go down to the auto parts store and get spare parts for it,” Wahl said. “As things break down or as there’s issues with it, it becomes more and more challenging to keep it up and running and maintain it.”
The police department has purchased a different vehicle from the Dane County Sheriff’s Office to replace the mine-resistant vehicle.
There are 36 mine-resistant vehicles in the state, said a spokeswoman with Wisconsin Emergency Management.