Molly Redden and Mother Jones have acquired a stash of armored vehicle request documents from police departments all over the nation. The requests are tied to the Department of Defense’s 1033 program, in which military hand-me-downs are given to basically any law enforcement agency that asks for them, whether or not these agencies actually need them.

Most of the documents contain some sort of pitch detailing the “need” for an armored vehicle, like the ever-popular MRAP (Mine-Resistant Armored Protected vehicle). Some of the pitches mention terrorism. Others simply state that potential terrorist targets reside in their jurisdiction. A great deal of them mention HIDTAs (High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area). As Redden points out, only 17% of the nation’s counties are actually federally-recognized HIDTAs, but that doesn’t stop requesting agencies from suggesting they too are in the midst of constant, dangerous drug trafficking.

Fully a quarter of the 465 requests projected using the vehicles for drug enforcement. Almost half of all departments indicated that they sit within a region designated by the federal government as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

Very few mention any real reasons an armored vehicle might be useful.

By contrast, out of the total 465 requests, only 8 percent mention the possibility of a barricaded gunman. For hostage situations, the number is 7 percent, for active shooters, 6 percent. Only a handful mentioned downed officers or the possibility of terrorism.

Given that the Military Vehicle Request: Short Form only contains three lines for “Special Considerations,” law enforcement agencies have been submitting a variety of non-sequiturs as justifications for armored vehicle procurement.

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The City of El Segundo is located in Southwest Los Angeles County and home to numerous Aerospace businesses such as Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Aerospace Corp and the Los Angeles Air Force Base. Our tactical team is in dire need of a armored vehicle for operational use.

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Former Crystal Cathedral, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez’ office and the largest mosque west of the Mississippi are all located in our City. We are also just one mile south of Disney resort area and are the fist ones in to support Anaheim PD with any riots/issues there.

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Dewey Beach has been consistently in the top 10 beaches in the U.S. It covers 1 sq mile, which during summer months explodes in excess of 30,000 in Population. The potential to need an Armored Tactical Vehicle is probable.

Others are more succinct, if less clear, in their specifications.

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We have a Tactical Response Team and are trying to get the equipment to have a good and affective team.

[Side note: there are plenty of misspellings and grammatical errors in the requests. No one expects police officials to be English professors, but a perusal of a few dozen of the request forms finds the only thing deployed more than these agencies’ SWAT teams are their extraneous apostrophes.]

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Armored Personnel carrier sought for tactical Operations
Not tracked vehicle – form will not allow me to un-select it

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I would like to get a vehicle that is available on the west coast.

But, for the most part, the requests are shot full of drug hysteria. Any agency not presiding over an HIDTA tends to make tenuous claims about actual HIDTAs located miles away somehow wreaking drug-related havoc in its own community simply by being approximately adjacent. If a highway runs through an area on its way to an actual drug-trafficking area, the agencies residing miles away along the same highway claim to be adversely affected simply because they’re “connected” by a road.

Some requests even launch into short but graphic depictions of the communities they serve.

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Hartford has roughly 120,000 permanent residents and over 500,000 during buissness hours. The city is plagued by gun and drug violence.

Many more agencies request armored vehicles using little more than “but this other agency has one!” as justification.

And in a sign of just how commonplace the use of military grade vehicles has become, multiple departments pointed out that they did not have an armored vehicle as a reason they ought to get one. One department stressed that the closest armored truck was 30 minutes away. “That’s an astonishing claim,” Eastern Kentucky’s [professor Peter] Kraska says. “Do we have to have a full SWAT team with an armored personnel carrier ready to be deployed in a response time of 10 minutes in every community in the country? Because obviously, that would be very disturbing.”

In addition, there are a surprising number of unofficial email addresses being used on the requisition forms.

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Other documents contain Gmail, Yahoo and personal ISP-provided email addresses. On one hand, it’s somewhat amusing to see that an AOL email address has been used to acquire military equipment. On the other hand, the use of personal email accounts is just one more method public officials use to keep their public-related emails out of the hands of the public.

The collected documents show one thing: the government is still more than willing to hand out military vehicles to participate in local agencies’ drug wars. While not every request resulted in an acquisition, nearly every request was added to the “priority” waiting list to be provided with a vehicle once one became available.

On one hand, yay recycling, but on the other, there’s police militarization, which shows no signs of slowing. Vehicles used in actual wars are coming back home to be deployed against civilians. SWAT teams generally don’t need too much encouragement in the “aggression” department and packing them up in a military vehicle only encourages a warrior mindset that’s completely out of step with what many SWAT teams do these days: warrant service. The 466 request forms portray the country as wholly under the sway of dangerous drug traffickers, with the occasional sovereign citizen/rural-weirdos-with-guns thrown in for good measure.

The few, scattered terrorism-oriented requests are even worse, as they use anything that might draw a crowd as justification for armored response vehicles — covering everything from an annual “Pumpkinfest” to a public beach.

The simple fact is that if you give law enforcement the option, they’ll take the most intimidating thing they can acquire. And thanks to the federal government’s wide variety of terrorism/drug-related grant programs, these vehicles can not only be had, but for little to no cost to the requesting agency. That’s really the only barrier to entry, and the government has helpfully removed it.


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