Vermont is not known for explosive devices planted along country roads or interstate highways, or armed guerrilla fighters hiding in the woods. But that hasn't stopped the state's police agencies from obtaining armor-plated, bomb-resistant military vehicles from the U.S. Department of Defense. These heavy, gas-guzzling vehicles -- built at great public expense for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- have found their way into Vermont through a federal program that has led to what Americans saw this summer in Ferguson, Missouri: the militarization of state and local police.
This spring, for example, the Vermont State Police obtained a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected ("MRAP") through the military’s “1033 Program,” authorized in 1996 by Congress. The program was inserted in the fiscal year 1997 National Defense Authorization Act (Pub. L. No. 104-201), as “Section 1033”; hence the name. The cost of an MRAP off the assembly line for the federal government was $500,000. For the state police, the cost was $0 – although about $80,000 was needed for a civilian-use makeover, including removal of a machine gun turret.
VSP termed the vehicle “a platform that will help troopers get close to and help defuse a dangerous situation without exposing them to life-threatening danger.” Col. Tom L’Esperance, head of the state police, said, “We hope we never need it.”
The VSP joined police departments around the country now able, when necessary, to roll out these 14-ton weapons of war. (One colleague agency with the same vehicle is the campus police department at Ohio State University. As hard as it is to imagine what Vermont State Police want to do with their MRAP, it’s even harder to imagine what the campus cops at OSU are planning.)
The Vermont State Police’s acquisition of an MRAP followed their landing of a BearCat tactical vehicle three years ago. “BearCat” is an acronym for “ballistic engineered armored response counter attack truck.” Sticker price to taxpayers when built was $200,000 to $300,000. But the surplus price to the VSP was, again, $0.
A country that goes to war ends up with storage lots and warehouses full of vehicles, weapons, and other battle materiel. We wrote last week about how police departments around Vermont tried to obtain sniper rifles through the 1033 Program. (Even officers you don’t think of as police but qualify to receive surplus goods – the state’s game wardens – wanted sniper rifles.)
Similarly, police agencies around Vermont have tried to snag hulking military vehicles like the VSP’s MRAP and BearCat. In 2014, Orange County (pop. 28,000) applied for an MRAP, citing "a gross increase in the amount of burglary and theft calls" stemming from opiate and bath salts use by residents. Orange County also guessed that its proximity to Dartmouth College and the Vermont Technical College would make getting the 14-ton, six-wheeled, armor-plated truck a good idea.
And lots of police departments have asked for High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, better known as Humvees. Sheriff’s departments in Lamoille County asked for two Humvees to assist with flooding, and got them. Windham County has one.
Swanton Village, meanwhile, was awarded one Humvee for every two full-time police officers (there are four officers on the Swanton force). Manchester has three Humvees. And Richmond and Bennington each have one.
Few people have had any idea of the amount of surplus military materiel coming into the state (which, by the way, ranks 48th in per-capita violent crime). Vermont journalists have been digging into data that details what Vermont police have been requesting and receiving through the federal 1033 Program. (Check out stories done by VTDigger, WPTZ, and Hill Country Observer.) We've posted that data on our Web site in text-searchable PDFs, sorted by municipality or state agency. Want all of the data to do your own analysis? We've rolled all of the files into a tarball [480MB] (or Zip [481MB]) for your convenience. And, if you'd like to know what's happening in other states, check out the Marshall Project's national database.
We’ll continue to blog about some of the things we’ve found in looking through the data files. Vermont police departments’ desire for MRAPs and sniper rifles is just a sliver of the military hardware that officers have been shopping for. You might be surprised at what your local department has on hand to patrol your streets and keep the peace.