Treasure Valley police departments are beefing up their fleets, thanks to unneeded gear from the U.S. military.
Both the Boise and Nampa police departments received Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles or MRAPs that have been used in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The Caldwell Police Department is on the waiting list for a vehicle and hopes to have one in a few months.
The departments received the vehicles through a Pentagon program that makes used military equipment available to other government agencies, including law enforcement, once it's no longer needed in conflict zones.
"Now that the Iraq war is pretty much done and Afghanistan is scaling down, they have all these MRAP vehicles left over," Nampa Police Sgt. Tim Randall said.
Giving police access to the armored vehicles was a much better option than letting them sit in storage for years, Randall said. He said Nampa police have badly needed a similar vehicle for some time.
"We almost on a daily basis deal with situations involving guns," he said. "Pretty regularly, (we are) dealing with barricaded subjects or hostile subjects with firearms."
Both the Boise and Nampa agencies say the vehicles are primarily needed for officer safety. Nampa police plan to use their MRAP as a transport and rescue vehicle, either to get officers and SWAT teams to a location safely or to carry hostages away from dangerous situations.
"This vehicle will be strategic and potentially life-saving for officer response to any incident involving a possible weapon of mass destruction, explosive device, heavily armed subject, even a hazardous material situation," Boise Deputy Chief William Bones said in a press release announcing its vehicle.
NAMPA'S SCARY FINDINGS
Nampa police had been using an armored car that was given to the department years ago. Last year, officers took the vehicle out to the range to test it, with everything from handguns to BB guns.
"We shot it up and found that it really wasn't armored," Randall said. "Stuff was flying right through it."
They looked into buying a civilian model of the MRAP, but the trucks range in price from $250,000 to more than $400,000 too much for the department to afford.
So when the MRAP became available for free, both BPD and NPD jumped at the opportunity. The only cost to police was gas money to drive the vehicles to the Treasure Valley from Fort Lewis in Washington.
At 6 miles per gallon, that trip came to about $1,000, Randall said, but it was far less than trying to buy a similar vehicle outright. Both departments plan to paint their new vehicles; Boise will outfit its vehicle with response and rescue equipment for a total estimated price tag of less than $10,000.
'RISE OF THE WARRIOR COP'
Local law enforcement benefitting from military surplus isn't new last fall, the Ada County Sheriff's Office received a Reva 4x4 MKII Armored Personnel Carrier.
Diane Raptosh, director of the criminal justice studies minor and an English professor at the College of Idaho, said she believes a civilian police force using military-grade gear might cause more problems than it solves.
"I think there needs to be a middle ground. I have a problem with the idea that more might, more arms, more guns whether they're available to police or ordinary citizens is going to make us all safer," she said.
Raptosh said she has observed a nationwide trend of officers wielding equipment that is better suited for war than the streets of their town. Police departments now function almost as another arm of the military, she said.
"This is the era in which we see the rise of the warrior cop," she said. "More muscle does not necessarily a safer country make."
The MRAP vehicles, which weigh about 14 tons and can withstand an IED blast, are over the top for civilian police forces, in Raptosh's opinion.
AGENCIES PROMISE CAREFUL USE
Bones, the Boise deputy chief, stressed that the city's vehicle would be used only under special circumstances.
"(The MRAP) will respond to very specific high-risk situations and be used for training, but this will not be a vehicle citizens see very often," he said.
Randall agreed, saying people in Nampa are unlikely to see its truck out on patrols.
Nampa's vehicle has been deployed twice. The first time was when carjacking suspect Rodney Lee Seiber dodged capture by leading police on a high-speed chase before hiding out in a cornfield. Police surrounded and combed through the field, but found no sign of the suspect.
"We took it out in case we needed to approach or get away from any type of firearm situation," Randall said.
Seiber was arrested Sept. 25 in Montana after a week on the run.
Nampa police sent out the MRAP again after receiving a report of a suicidal man who had barricaded himself inside a house with a gun.
But Randall said police don't plan to tap into the mine-resistant vehicle's intimidation factor as a way to make suspects comply.
"Normally, we don't roll those up in front until we're ready to take some sort of action," he said.
Katie Terhune: 377-6219