More military armored surplus going to police departments

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Bill Bittar, stripes

When Waterbury’s Emergency Response Team set out to arrest two suspects in a home-invasion case early this month, they went in force: Two heavily armored trucks led a convoy of officers to nab the suspects at a house on Laurel Street.

The mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles used in the raid were acquired for free by Watertown and Waterbury, which are among 11 Connecticut police departments to own such gear.

More military armored surplus going to police departments

Watertown Police Sgt. Curt Molnar said his department shares its MRAP as a regional vehicle with Waterbury, Naugatuck Valley Community College, Wolcott and Middlebury.

“You hope not to use it much, because it could mean there’s a shooter or a serious call,” Molnar said.

Watertown acquired the $733,000 armored vehicle through the federal Defense Logistics Agency’s 1033 program, which allows law enforcement agencies to receive surplus military property through their state coordinating office.

The program stems from the National Defense Authorization Act in the ’90s, which allows law enforcement agencies to acquire property with a preference given to counter-drug and counter-terrorism requests. All law enforcement agencies have to pay for is transportation or shipping costs.

Watertown spent $2,800 to pick up its MRAP in Texas, rather than paying $10,500 to have it delivered.

Though the department did not have to pay for the vehicle itself, the town must fund maintenance and repairs.

But Molnar said it will cost no more than a town plow truck does.

The MRAP has a new chassis and Caterpillar engine like the town’s trucks, he said, adding it can be maintained in Watertown’s public works garage.

“This thing will be good for 20-plus years,” Molnar said.

Watertown’s MRAP can be shifted from two- to four- and six-wheel drive.

Molnar looked at the thickness of the tires of the vehicle in his department’s parking lot and said, “These things are going to last forever.” His department also received three spare tires for free.

The bulletproof glass panels on both sides of the windshield weigh 300 pounds each, according to Molnar.

The vehicle also has heavy armored side doors with fold-down seats in the back that have separate heating and air conditioning units. It can travel 30 mph and it gets 4 miles to the gallon.

“It only has a 75-gallon gas tank,” Molnar said. “You’d think it would be more. The explosion factor is why.”

The military used MRAPS heavily in Afghanistan in 2007 after a high number of roadside fatalities among soldiers driving over land mines in Humvees. The MRAP’s V-shaped undercarriage was instrumental in cutting those deaths by 92 percent, according to Molnar.

Molnar said the bulletproof vehicle can safely pick up an officer who is down.

“It’s a blocking force in itself if an officer is down,” he said. “That happens more than you would think.”

The MRAP, which can seat 10 people, could help to evacuate students from a building in a school shooting, according to Molnar.

It can also be used in natural disasters.

“Say there’s a tornado,” Molnar said. “It has a winch in front that’s heavy duty, so it can clear downed trees.”

In flood conditions, Watertown Officer Jesse Esposito, a member of the Emergency Response Team, said the MRAP could drive in water about two to three feet deep.

Community policing is yet another local use, according to Molnar, who said it can be used by the school resource officer and featured at town events such as parades.

“It’s a great opportunity for the public to learn about the police and what we do,” Molnar said. “It’s definitely a big icebreaker with the kids.”

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