- Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2014

TAYLORSVILLE, Utah (AP) - Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Alex Lepley imagines a scenario where a man has barricaded himself, fired a gun at police officers and placed bystanders in peril.

Enter UHP’s new mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, “MRAP” for short. Or at least that’s what the U.S. Army called it.

The U.S. Department of Defense recently gave a surplus MRAP to the highway patrol. The law enforcement agency plans to use it to carry troopers to dangerous crime scenes and to keep those troopers safe while protecting civilians.

“Obviously, it is intimidating,” Lepley said of the dump truck-sized armored vehicle designed to withstand bomb blasts in Iraq and Afghanistan, “but that isn’t its primary purpose. It’s saving lives. I can drive this right through the middle of a gunfight.”

The MRAP is not the only gift Utah law enforcement agencies have received from the military. In the two-year period beginning in October 2011, Utah police received 1,230 rifles, according to records the Defense Department provided to The Tribune.

Utah police also received four grenade launchers, 17 .45-caliber pistols and a handful of magazines and weapon accessories.

The Defense Department has provided the weaponry and equipment through what it calls the 1033 Program. As of an April 2013 audit, Utah police possessed $2.8 million of weapons and other military gear received through the program.

While there’s no available documentation that anyone in Utah has been shot or killed with weapons from the 1033 Program, civil libertarians have taken note and are voicing concern over what they call the “militarization” of local police.

Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute of Utah, said he’s concerned the program gives Utah police a financial incentive to use more violent tactics than they otherwise might in an era when crime and police officer deaths are declining.

“The data I’ve seen is that the risk is decreasing, and yet the tools of defense are gearing up,” Boyack said.

The sheriffs and police chiefs who subscribe to the program say they are trying to protect the public and their officers.

“I look out for the rights of my deputies,” said Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower, whose office also received an MRAP. “They have the right to be protected in the dangerous work that they do.”

BLANKETS TO GUNS

Congress started the program in 1996 to send military surplus gear to local police. According to the Defense Logistics Agency, the Pentagon office responsible for the program, it has given $4.2 billion worth of equipment to police, including $502 million just in 2011.

The program provides more than MRAPs and rifles. Defense Department records show Utah police also have received emergency blankets, medical gear, camera equipment, pliers and a variety of other merchandise that sounds more like what you’d find at a hardware store than at an armory.

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