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Local Law Enforcement Gets Military-Grade Equipment

By Anita Oh

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Local departments are rolling out new heavy equipment to help them protect and serve. More than a dozen armored police vehicles are now in Bucks County. Nearly 50,000 pound military grade armored vehicles were originally designed for war zones.

"They are mine resistant ambush protection vehicles. They were designed for the military to use against IED's and other explosive devices," said Lieutenant James Braim, of the Lower Makefield police department.

As part of a federal program, these trucks are transitioning out of the military combat and into local police departments, including 15 in Bucks County.

"It's to protect our officers who are responding to hostile scenes," Braim said.

Such as in 2012, when an off duty New Jersey officer barricaded himself inside his Doylestown home raining gunfire on responding officers.

"He disabled some vehicles and he disabled another armored personal vehicle that was there.  This type of vehicle is able to withstand a lot more abuse," Braim says.

He says it could even be used in severe weather situations, such as flooding.  In 2006, that happened three times. We had to use backhoes and front end loaders to get across the high water to get to people, so this is able to withstand several foot of water. The $865,000 truck is federally funded. So far, Lieutenant Jason Braim says there's been no cost to the Bucks County taxpayer, financially or otherwise.

"It's used as a defensive vehicle not an offensive vehicle," says Braim.

Not everyone is in favor. We got a lot of response on social media, one person saying: "It's ridiculous that local police departments feel like they need those sorts of vehicles."

The ACLU of Pennsylvania also sent Eyewitness News this statement:

"Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPS) and other military equipment should only be used by police as a last resort and in very narrow circumstances. Our neighborhoods aren't war zones, and police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies. The use of armored vehicles and other military gear encourages overly aggressive policing. They often provoke fear, traumatize individuals and families, and result in damage to personal property. Police departments need to adopt strong guidelines about when these vehicles will be used."

But Lieutenant Braim says it's better to have one and not need it, than the other way around.

"It's an asset 100% percent. If it did its job once, it'd be worth whatever it cost to keep officers and the public safe."

Lower Makefield isn't the first police department to get armored vehicles. Other police departments across the country have them as well. But, here in Bucks County, the Warwick police department got one a few years ago, but says it hasn't been used so far.

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