Editor's note: The following report is the last in a multi-part series on the topic of the militarization of law enforcement. The report examines the issue from multiple perspectives in Young County.
Young County Commissioner Mike Sipes has heard and read about many arguments both for and against what is now widely perceived as the militarization of the police.
One of the most recent debates occurred last Monday, Aug. 25. Young County Sheriff's Deputies Jim Budarf and Jabe Underwood went before the Commissioners Court to answer key questions about their department's most recent acquisition: A used but fully functional MRAP, or mine resistant military vehicle, from Fort Bliss in El Paso.
Budarf explained that of the sheriff's department's three military vehicles, the MRAP is the only one in service, and the department is considering returning the other vehicles to the 1033 program or donating them to another agency.
On Monday morning, Sept. 2, Budarf told the Graham Leader that the YCSO is currently working on standard operating procedures for the vehicle and mutual aid agreements that will include Graham Fire, Young County Rural Fire, Olney Fire, Graham EMS, Olney EMS, Graham PD and surrounding counties.
But Sipes remains cautious about embracing local LEA acquisitions such as the MRAP.
From the vacant lot on the southwest corner of the Graham Square four days prior to the Aug. 25 Commissioners Court meeting, he listed several examples of military-style intervention by law enforcement agencies that bolster his concerns, from the 1993 Branch Davidian situation in Waco to the 1970 shootings at Kent State University.
“If we start taking these Department of Defense grants and Homeland Security things, are they going to start indoctrinating you as far as ‘this is how you use it for domestic insurrection'?” Sipes said. “Are our peaceful protests going to become less narrowly defined? If we were to have an open-carry demonstration out here... would that be a reason to bring out the MRAP?”
Sipes explained that he is concerned about the image this situation presents of both the Young County Sheriff's Department and the community as a whole. The commissioner stated emphatically that he wants local LEAs to have the best protection possible for any given situation.
“I'm just thinking that this armored vehicle may be crossing the line,” he said.
In addition to the Young County Sheriff's Office, Graham Police Chief Tony Widner's department also participates in the Texas 1033 Military Surplus Program, which, according to the Department of Public Safety, is defined accordingly:
“The National Defense Authorization Act authorizes the Secretary of Defense to transfer excess Department of Defense (DoD) personal property to Federal, state and local Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA) with special emphasis given to counter drug and counter terrorism.”
The Graham PD and YCSO are two of more than 13,000 agencies throughout the country participating in similar federal programs, and GPD Chief Tony Widner believes that many more practical applications exist for LEAs through the Texas 1033 program, and that many citizen fears about the now household term “police militarization” could be allayed through a more thorough understanding of what exactly LEAs are getting when granted used military equipment.
“One thing that I think people need to know is that these vehicles are not armed,” Widner said, specifying that the MRAPs granted to law enforcement agencies don't come with turret-mounted weapons. “The only benefit that law enforcement gets from these types of vehicles is that they're bullet proof. And that type of technology is extremely expensive and pretty much out of the reach of anybody but a major agency.”
Speaking about the Graham Police Department, Widner said that if he or his officers were placed in a situation involving heavy gunfire, they currently do not have bullet proof equipment to protect them. That, he said, would provide valuable peace of mind.
Read the entire story in Wednesday's Graham Leader.