SEBRING — Two weeks ago when a man held a woman hostage and threatened to kill responding officers, the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team brought its MRAP armored vehicle to the scene.
The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle provided protection for deputies as they got closer to the man after the woman escaped, Lt. Jack Bailey of the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office recalled.
“As we pulled up in the vehicle, he continued to make escalated threats,” Bailey said.
The safety provided by the vehicle ultimately helped deputies to end the situation without injury to any law enforcement officers or the suspect, Bailey said.
The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office received the vehicle and 55 assault rifles at a relatively nominal charge through the military surplus program, Nell Hays, public information officer for the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office, said. She said they paid $2,000 for the vehicle.
Normally, such a vehicle would have cost $600,000, Bailey said, adding that it would have been very difficult for the sheriff’s office to afford one.
Nationally many other departments have received such vehicles, helicopters, body armor, grenade launchers and rifles through the program. Some people have questioned the resulting militarization of law enforcement in light of the large law enforcement response in Ferguson, Mo., where a police officer shot a teenager and that resulted in riots, according to a New York Times article.
“I can see why some people might think that,” Highlands County Chief Deputy Mark Schrader said, referring to a reaction to armored vehicles.
But these days with law enforcement dealing in more cases involving suspects having military type weapons, better equipment is needed, he said.
Deputies need protection not only for themselves, but also to keep the general public safe, Schrader said.
A perfect example of that is an incident earlier this year where a man with military-style weapons shot at homes and vehicles in his neighborhood, Bailey said. One could just look at the bullet holes in patrol cars at the scene and see that those vehicles weren’t sufficient to protect deputies, he said.
Ultimately, however, a deputy arrived and shot the suspect before a decision was made to get the armored vehicle to the scene.
Bailey said the vehicle also has been used to evacuate people living in proximity to dangerous situations.
The assault rifles were transformed from automatic to semi-automatic weapons, Bailey said.
Highlands County received more items through the military surplus program than most surrounding counties, according to the New York Times website. The New York Times said that most of those counties only got assault rifles. Hardee got eight; DeSoto, 11, Okeechobee, 34 and Glades, six, according to the New York Times.
Polk County received an armored vehicle, four helicopters, 271 assault rifles and two grenade launchers, the site said.
Bailey said such launchers would not be used to hurl grenades against residents, but would instead launch non-lethal items, such as a chemical irritant.