WARREN COUNTY, N.Y. - Armored vehicles that protected American forces in places like Iraq having a second life here at home.
Since 1995, the Pentagon has given $4 billion worth of military equipment to local police forces, everything from tactical gear to weapons to those mine resistant, ambush protected vehicles known as MRAPs.
Warren County, N.Y. - population 65,000 and home to Lake George - is a wintertime postcard, peaceful, picturesque and well-protected.
This September, the sheriff's department took delivery of a fully armored, mine resistant vehicle or MRAP, the same equipment used by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Shawn Lamouree runs the emergency response team.
"I don't expect to see insurgents with RPGs," he said. "I don't expect to see roadside bombs. Our only concern is people with guns."
The vehicle is unarmed -- its gun turret has been removed -- but the reinforced steel doors and pressurized cab offer protection not afforded by a patrol car.
"I would be remiss at doing my job if I didn't prepare for the worst," said Bud York, the Warren County sheriff. "I'm tasked with protecting the public and protecting my people. That accomplishes both of those goals at no taxpayer money."
The $650,000, 5-mile-to-the-gallon MRAP, and this armored Humvee, came free of charge through a defense department program that transfers surplus equipment to state and local police departments.
Nearly 200 law enforcement
agencies added armored vehicles to their fleets in 2013. Last November, the Boise,
Idaho, police department used its MRAP to arrest a kidnapping suspect believed
to be barricaded with explosives.
Last November, the Boise, Idaho, police department used its MRAP to arrest a kidnapping suspect believed to be barricaded with explosives.
Warren County dispatched its armored vehicles to hostage situations twice last fall.
"The guy saw the armored vehicle, he walks out and gives himself up," York said. "Just by looking at the vehicle. He came out. He didn't want to mess with anybody."
York said he hoped the vehicles sit in the garage and do not have to be used.
So does Kara Dansky, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. She is uncomfortable with these vehicles designed for combat responding to calls in small town America. To her, military-grade equipment has no place in civilian law enforcement and says her research has shown it can actually increase violence.
"We've seen a number of instances in which police departments receive training that suggests that they have what we call a warrior type mentality," she said. "They think of themselves as an engaging in a battle."
Why is a warrior mentality problematic in civilian law enforcement officers?
"We think the bottom line is that the police are here to protect and serve, not treat our neighborhoods like war zones," she said.
"I don't buy that," York responded. "I think that's poppycock. I think it depends on the agency, it depends on the training. We're a very professional agency here. None of my guys are ever going to be placed in danger. And that's why I'm glad we have it.
Warren County did pay to have the vehicles delivered and painted. Seized drug money covered all costs.