- Associated Press - Saturday, June 14, 2014

FRANKLIN, Ind. (AP) - In a pole barn in Franklin, sharing space with a motorcycle and a boat, sat an imposing military vehicle designed for battlefields in Iraq or Afghanistan, not the streets of Johnson County.

It is an MRAP - a bulletproof, 55,000-pound, six-wheeled behemoth with heavy armor, a gunner’s turret and the word “SHERIFF” emblazoned on its flank - a vehicle whose acronym stands for “mine resistant ambush protected.”

“We don’t have a lot of mines in Johnson County,” confessed Sheriff Doug Cox, who acquired the vehicle. “My job is to make sure my employees go home safe.”

Johnson County is one of eight Indiana law enforcement agencies to acquire MRAPs from military surplus since 2010, according to public records obtained by The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/1s0pcH6 ). The vehicles are among a broad array of 4,400 items - everything from coats to computers to high-powered rifles - acquired by police and sheriff’s departments across the state.

Law enforcement officials, especially those from agencies with small budgets, say they’re turning to military surplus equipment to take advantage of bargains and protect police officers. The MRAP has an added benefit, said Pulaski County Sheriff Michael Gayer, whose department also acquired one: “It’s a lot more intimidating than a Dodge.”

Even in Pulaski County, population 13,124, a more military approach to law enforcement is needed these days, Gayer suggested.

“The United States of America has become a war zone,” he said. “There’s violence in the workplace, there’s violence in schools and there’s violence in the streets. You are seeing police departments going to a semi-military format because of the threats we have to counteract. If driving a military vehicle is going to protect officers, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

But, to some, the introduction of equipment designed for war in Fallujah, Iraq, to the streets of U.S. towns and cities raises questions about the militarization of civilian police departments. Will it make police inappropriately aggressive? Does it blur the line between civilian police and the military?

“Americans should … be concerned unless they want their main streets patrolled in ways that mirror a war zone,” wrote Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat and co-author of a USA TODAY article earlier this year. “We recognize that we’re not in Kansas anymore, but are MRAPs really needed in small-town America?”

The MRAPs were obtained from the Law Enforcement Support Office of the federal Defense Logistics Agency. Local agencies pay only the cost of delivery.

Other departments that used the program to acquire MRAPs included the West Lafayette Police Department; the Morgan County Sheriff; the Merrillville Police Department; the Mishawaka Police Department; the Terre Haute Police Department; and the Jefferson County Sheriff.

Military surplus can save departments a lot of money. In Johnson County’s case, Cox estimated, it paid about $5,000 for its MRAP. The government paid $733,000 when it was new.

Morgan County Sheriff Robert Downey and Maj. Jerry Pickett, head of Johnson County SWAT, said if they had $300,000 to spend, they would prefer a commercial “BearCat” armored vehicle - such as what the IMPD has - instead of a military MRAP. The BearCat is smaller, lighter and faster. The MRAP can’t exceed 65 mph. But they don’t have that money. So they used military surplus.

In Johnson County, the sheriff’s department had been using a 22-year-old armored “Peacekeeper” vehicle from military surplus before it became unreliable. It’s much smaller than the MRAP and looks its age. Cox said maintenance for the MRAP will come out of the jail’s commissary fund.

“I think us having (the MRAP) in that barn is much better than the federal government leaving it rusting on a cement slab somewhere in Texas or Virginia or wherever these may be sitting,” Cox said.

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