Police in Okla. adding military vehicles to fleet
GUTHRIE, Okla. (KOKH) -- A new military vehicle is turning heads and sparking debates in smaller towns across Oklahoma.
Their tires can crush almost anything on the road, their windows are bulletproof and the vehicles are ready for battle.
But none are driving through combat zones. They're driving through Oklahoma cities and towns.
"For the $2,000 price tag I can't even buy a good used police car for that," said Guthrie Police Chief Damon Devereaux.
Devereaux takes FOX 25 cameras exclusively inside the newest part of his fleet. The vehicle seats 12 comfortably, has an automatic transmission and Devereaux says no special license is needed. On a quiet street he even lets reporter Rebecca Schleicher get behind the wheel.
It's called an MRAP vehicle. The acronym stands for "mine resistant ambush protective." And while Guthrie does not have any mines in city limits, Devereaux says there are a few vital reasons to use the new equipment.
"This vehicle is able to go through four to five feet of water," he said, discussing the city's susceptibility for flooding, and "our tactical team's gonna use it for high risk drug warrants."
Right now, they respond to water rescues, standoffs and natural disasters in regular squad cars. He says that can put officers and citizens in harm's way.
But a federal surplus program allowed eight Oklahoma law enforcement agencies to add the military units to their roster.
Devereaux says on the road, it gets a lot of attention. People wave and honk their horns as the vehicles passes by.
But Rep. Jason Murphey (R-Guthrie) says not all the attention is positive.
"A lot of taxpayers and citizens, I think, are very uncomfortable with the idea of military equipment rolling through their cities," Murphey said.
Original cost for the vehicle is more than $730,000, but law enforcement paid just $2,500 for processing fees, according to the Dept. of Defense.
Devereaux says that cost equals what he pays to purchase four to five bullet proof vests. And he believes the MRAP will cover all 23 of his officers from gunfire, if necessary.
He paid for Guthrie's vehicle with drug seizure money. But some still question the move.
"Does even that minimal cost justify the need for the equipment? How many times are these pieces really going to be deployed?" Murphey asked.
Chief Devereaux says the vehicle is only for emergencies and public outreach events. He anticipates filling up the diesel tank just twice a year.
Although he invites agencies around the county to contact him if they need the MRAP for a tactical or rescue situation. He's also working with OSU-OKC to develop a training course for his officers to learn how to safely operate the vehicle.
It's not uncommon for larger law enforcement agencies to employ armored vehicles in situations where there might be gunfire. The Oklahoma City Police Dept. used to have a military surplus vehicle, but have since purchased a custom-made Lenco Bearcat armored vehicle to serve their needs on smaller city streets. Spokesperson Capt. Dexter Nelson says they use their vehicle, which cost $287,000, between 12 and 14 times a year with tactical teams and sometimes the bomb squad.
Devereaux says he will let citizens inside the MRAP during "Touch the Trucks" day and at future parades.
"This isn't a vehicle the public should fear," he said, "it's just another tool for us to do our job and to do it as safely as we can."