A small town police department getting an armoured military vehicle can only amplify calls to demilitarise the police

BLM protest & MRAP vehicle
Peadar O'Cearnaigh

As calls intensify in the US to demilitarise the police, the Moundsville police department in West Virginia unveiled its latest acquisition on 18 June. Under the US government’s 1033 programme, this police department obtained a ‘mine-resistant ambush-protected’ light tactical vehicle (MRAP).

What’s also noteworthy about this acquisition is that Moundsville has at times had a lower than average crime rate between 2003 and 2018. Another survey ranked it as the tenth safest city in the state. Additionally, it has an estimated population of 8,252 people. And as there is a cost to the police department for this acquisition, it could strengthen the argument to defund the police.

Protests across the US

As Black Lives Matter protests began across the US and the globe following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, police used violent and militarised force against protesters. And not for the first time. There was great anger at the use of police military tactics during protests in Ferguson in 2014. The protests in Ferguson followed the police killing of Black teenager Michael Brown.

But the militarisation of the US police force is hardly new. Shane Bauer of Mother Jones reported that the US federal government supplied police departments with $5.1bn worth of equipment between 1997 and 2016. And since 2006, West Virginia has received hundreds of weapons and military equipment. It also received these weapons through the Department of Defence’s 1033 program.

Militarisation of the police and 1033

So the militarisation of the police is not a recent phenomenon. According to professor and author Alex Vitale, Robert Peel founded the police in Ireland during British occupation. Peel established this police force, according to Vitale, “to put down rural uprisings more efficiently than relying on the British Army”.

Some put the militarisation of the US police force down to the Bush administration who introduced the 1033 programme in 1990. This programme allows police forces across the US access to equipment that the military no longer needs or is surplus to requirements. According to a report to the US congress in July 2017:

Since 1991, DOD has reported transferring more than $6 billion worth of its excess controlled and noncontrolled personal property to more than 8,600 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies through the LESO program, which is managed by DLA.

What the MRAP is meant for

This MRAP, or a variant of it, has been designed to “support the recovery efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan”. According to its manufacturer, MRAP’s are:

Lightweight armor systems made with Kevlar® fiber help optimize the essential properties needed for effective advanced ballistic protection, such as providing multi-hit protection, maintaining ballistic capability through a variety of conditions and superior durability.

We can only speculate as to what “multi-hit protection” a police force in a town of around 8,000 people actually needs. And while the Moundsville police department has reportedly acquired the MRAP ‘free of charge’, surely there are more important services the public need such as healthcare:

The Canary contacted the Moundsville police department for comment but received no reply by the time of publication.

What is policing?

Since the police killing of George Floyd, there have been growing calls to defund the police. Because his killing highlights that reform has so far failed. It also raises questions about the role of policing in the US and elsewhere. The Minneapolis police motto “To Protect With Courage, To Serve With Compassion” is beyond irony.

Because of the police force’s military beginnings in Ireland in the 19th century, the role that the modern day police force plays in the US is unfortunately not a surprise. So along with the calls to defund the police, there needs to be better understanding of its role thus far. As well as a clear understanding of the role we now, as a society, want for the police.

Featured image via Flickr – David Geitgey Sierralupe & Flickr – The U.S. Army

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  • Show Comments
    1. The “defund the police” slogan needs to be refined because the Right are using it to claim it conceals a campaign in defence of lawlessness. What it means, of course, is: don’t expect the police to solve social problems; ensure there are agencies which can intervene before the police, agencies which do not use force but provide help; restrict the police to their proper function which has to be carried out in a society in which all citizens are equal before the aw and there is respect for due process. The Right, however, are using it to mean: abolish the police and let everyone do whatever they like. The slogan needs to be simply: “equality before the law”. The argument about restricting the role of the police needs to be a matter of finesse. It’s important to think hard about the language you use. The Right has been gifted an argument: “Oh, these people on the streets, they want you to have no one to call if your house is burgled or your grandma mugged.” It’s not true, but the slogan allows them to claim it is. No one is suggesting abolishing the category of criminal behaviour. We need to make that clear. No one is suggesting there will be no police officers; simply that the police need to pulled back from their role as armed enforcers of an ingrained prejudice. The slogan has permitted the Right to shift the argument from racism to law and order. That’s a mistake. Inscribe “Equality Before the Law” on your banners. What argument do they have against that?

    2. Is it just me but why does the defender of the free world and democracy, that invades countries illegally, assassinates people at will and bombs civilians, actually have no interests in democracy what so ever ?

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