Gunning Up Virginia’s Cops

By Peter Galuszka

 In 2014, the Sheriff’s Department of York County and Poquoson got their very own tank-like vehicle, called a “Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP).”

Fully armored and tan in color with steep sides, it looks like something out television footage of the war in Iraq where U.S. troops needed to get through mine-infested streets and terrain safely.

But why do such generally sleepy communities such as these need a high-powered armored car? Sheriff J.D. “Danny” Digs told The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press that it isn’t meant to “intimidate people” but can be useful during adverse weather when trees are down. Really? Wouldn’t a pickup truck work?

The newspaper story is important since it combs through what Virginia law enforcement got after the “1033”Defense Department program started to sell surplus military gear to local law enforcement in 1997.

It notes that military surplus sales in Virginia went from $216,000 in 1999 to $853,824 in 2019, according to Defense Logistics Agency statistics. The latter number included the cost of another MRAP so Virginia Beach could get its very own armored truck. Over time, the City of Portsmouth got 87 M-16 assault rifles. Other goodies include night vision glasses.

This all begs a question. After all the turmoil nationally in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed and handcuffed African American by a white Minneapolis Police Department policeman, there are strong calls to defund or reorganize police departments. What should be done?

Back in the mid-1970s, when I was covering police departments in Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach and sometimes Norfolk for The Virginian-Pilot, the emphasis was on community policing.

Police were encouraged to get to know their communities, build trust with residents who would let them know what was going on and protect lives and property.

Of course there were major problems. In 1973, a State Police undercover probe resulted in the convictions of a number of Portsmouth narcotics and vice detectives for accepting sexual favors from prostitutes in exchange for intelligence on planned police raids. It got so bad that no other police department in Tidewater wanted to share information with Portsmouth.

Also, there were accusations of brutality and disproportionate petty harassment of African-Americans for such crimes as possessing marijuana. On July 1 of this year, the “crime” is being decriminalized and will bring a small fine, not prison time.

The 1033 program has the unfortunate effect of putting barriers between a community and its police. You can’t build trust from inside of an armored truck. You can’t achieve much by parading around in military gear with flak jackets and assault rifles as if you are seizing Baghdad.

It isn‘t clear how the national movement to “defund” the police will impact Virginia. The Minneapolis City Council has voted to perhaps dissolved its police and come up with something new.

That’s too extreme but a reassessment is healthy. It is clear that police have been tasked with too much. For example, if a non-violent person suffering from mental illness is having a psychotic episode, the police will be called. They may handcuff the sick individual and take him or her to a psychiatric ward.

Why can’t other public servants handle it?

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42 responses to “Gunning Up Virginia’s Cops

  1. Boys and their dangerous toys. I don’t doubt the militarization of police work has added to the problems, but Chavin was in a standard uniform and used his knee to kill.

  2. Floyd is dead because Mayor Jacob Frey failed to follow through on his campaign promise to identify and remove bad cops. And American journalism is silent. The bottom rung keeps getting lower. First, it was Nixon, the Two Clintons and Trump. Then Northam. Now it’s American journalists.

    Frey must resign.

  3. Lovely Rita writes a billion dollars worth of tickets, boots, and tows vehicles and has yet to shoot someone in their face.

    Traffic stops are Stop &Frisk by another name. We don’t need armed officers to issue tickets for a broken taillight, and a broken taillight is not probable cause to search a person or vehicle nor run a wants and warrants check on everyone in the car, or to escalate to a shooting.

    As it is now, every traffic stop is a potentially lethal event because every traffic stop involves a gun. Traffic control should not have armed officers.

  4. “If a non-violent person suffering from mental illness is having a psychotic episode, the police will be called. They may handcuff the sick individual and take him or her to a psychiatric ward. Why can’t other public servants handle it?”

    I’m not sure that has anything to do with MRAP vehicles, but otherwise it’s a good question.

    • Well… not really. The problem is on the front of an incident, you don’t know the state of the person and they could well be exceedingly dangerous and the police – to this point – are the only public servants equipped and trained to deal with dangerous people. Not even the EMS folks should wade in a situation where the person is still very capable of hurting someone.

      But no, the police don’t need MRAP and more than they need a hole in their head. Give these vehicles to FEMA and the Virginia Emergency Management folks… and the like… or just park them like we do with excess aircraft:

  5. What amused me about this story was the acquisition of a MRAP by the Virginia Beach’s sheriff’s office. “As long as criminals are killing our law enforcement officers, I will continue to seek out the very best equipment to protect them,” said Sheriff Ken Stolle. But, Stolle’s department does not have law enforcement responsibilities. The Virginia Beach sheriff is responsible for running the jail and providing courtroom security. Hard to see how a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle would be needed to carry out those duties. As Steve says, “Boys and their toys.”

  6. Nancy, I completely agree that a tail light or speeding stop is not reason for a search, and some cops are far to quick to do it. But sometimes the cop has no such intention and gets killed in cold blood by the road. Naive indeed (or worse).

    • Here’s the question, “If the driver of a vehicle is sure that the stop will result in nothing more than a warning/citation, then why will it escalate?”. London’s Bobbies weren’t armed and criminals rarely escalated against them.

      If dealing with the public is sooooo dangerous, then why isn’t every civil servant armed, including social workers and Loverly Rita?

    • Being armed won’t stop a cop from being killed in cold blood in an ambush traffic stop. In the meantime, too many cops are killing too many citizens to justify our current level of police armament.

  7. how many tail light searches per killed cop???

    I’m not being flip… cops DO get killed on stops… true..

    • How many civilians killed per tail light search?

      • ratio: civilians killed in tail light searches / cops killed in tail light searches…

        tail-light searches are the vehicle equivalent of stop & frisk… in my view.

        If there is a “be on the lookout for”…. yes… but just pulling cars over randomly for tail lights is problematic…

        There needs to be a strict protocol for doing this – and it needs to be followed and if a cop has a pattern of not doing so, time to find new work. It’s no different that disobeying a direct order.

  8. Let’s look at facts, those pesky little creatures that are needed for a logic-based analytic discussion……… Between 2006 and 2014, of the $1.6 billion worth of equipment transfers under the 1033 Program, only about $310 million worth was actually military equipment. The rest of the equipment was non-military in nature, such as mechanic tools, filing cabinets, computers, and gym equipment. [ https://warontherocks.com/2020/06/how-to-get-started-on-rolling-back-police-militarization/?utm_source=WOTR+Newsletter&utm_campaign=e55f5410d8-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_10_30_2018_11_23_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_8375be81e9-e55f5410d8-82280177 ]

  9. With all the attention to the Minneapolis police incident and the Georgia rednecks who thought they’d play cop with real guns, the third recent fatal police interaction the BLM folks are pointing to has gotten less attention. That’s the one where cops executed a pre-dawn no-knock warrant, frightened a sleeping couple and the man did what many people would do – fired at (he claims) unidentified armed intruders. The return fire from the police killed the woman.

    This is one for the Second Amendment crowd to rally around, of course, since their normal response would be a person has a right to defend against armed intruders. They worry this tactic will be used to seize guns, with reason. This tactic of announcing your presence by first breaking in may not have been legal here, and is always incredibly dangerous. In the coming review of how police operate, this has to be high on the list for debate and reform. If that is actually the goal of course, rather than just ending the police.

    • What made this incident worse was the person whom they had the warrant for had already been taken into custody the previous day.

    • If the police have a warrant, they can kill someone, anyone, with impunity. It doesn’t matter if they shoot first and ask questions later, knock, no-knock, at the correct address or the one across the street.

      Ask the poor schmuck in Chesapeake who killed a cop pulling a no-knock search with a warrant that was illegally obtained. He still got 20+ years.

  10. No problem what so every with the other equipment especially stuff that does not require special parts and such.

    But 300 million can be several hundred MRAPs… and none of them belong in police hands in my view. Disaster agencies, yes.

  11. “Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP).” I suspect that MRAP’s have saved a lot of innocent lives and limbs around the world, including innocent lives in America. Ideologue induced hysteria and mass emotion disarming forces of order begets ever more violence, such as happened in late 1930s, driven by British intellectual class. Instead of peace it go us WW 2, just like Wilson started that process after WW1

    • Correction to last sentence above:

      Instead of peace, unilateral disarming got us WW 2, just like President Woodrow Wilson, our first professor President, mixed up the devil brew of disarmament after WW1 that guaranteed us WW2.

  12. Reed. Really don’t like the Munch analogy. We’re about the problems of race in America, not Hitler and Tojo.

  13. I know of one PD that got an MRAP. Nobody in the dept had any idea how to drive the thing so they had to get someone from Public Works to move it. It probably still sits in a public works garage wasting space.

  14. Idiocracy. In 1993, I went back to Moscow for a second tour. I went on a ride along with city PD. They had a new Ford squad car and loved it. They wanted me to translate the owners manual for them but it was beyond my linguistic ability

  15. I absolutely abhor the murder of George Floyd. No one in this entire string has mentioned his name until now. That man has been reduced into a hook on which to hang pre-existing prejudices.
    Anybody want to explain how this conversation never brought up the name of George Floyd?
    Anybody in this conversation want their kid to be a cop or a sheriff’s deputy?
    Anybody got a full list of the laws they don’t want enforced?
    Anybody moving to Minneapolis?
    Anybody expect the fire department or EMS in Minneapolis to respond in neighborhoods where violence been reported?
    Anybody think racism has not been under attack in America, successfully, since 1960?
    Systemic racism is defined as “racism resulting from the inherent biases and prejudices of the policies and practices of social and political organizations, groups, or institutions”.
    Anybody think police departments across America, including majority minority forces, are “systemically” racist in cities that have been run by Democrats for more than five decades?
    Sign up list:

    • Jim Sherlock. You say “I absolutely abhor the murder of George Floyd.

      You don’t abhor George Floyd’s death any more than I do. Look at who runs, who has claimed responsibly for, who lives in, and who has made promises about the future of, these cities for generations. Look at the rates of black on black crime in these cities, for example. These problems are far bigger, far deeper, and far more complex than the murder of a single man, no matter how abhorrent and inexcusable his death was.

      • How about my questions?

        • I did answer your questions. You ignored my response. Why?

          • Reed, I don’t see your answers to my questions. If I missed them I apologize. What did I miss?

        • Still, no answers from Jim Sherlock.

        • Still no respond from sherlockj.

          Why?

          His refusal to answer justify his attacks on others is not from his lack of opportunity. The Navy Captain has been running his mouth elsewhere as a legal scholar. Why can’t the Navy Captain respond to challenges to his own earlier demands on others before he lectures us on the perfidy of the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court?

        • “Reed, I don’t see your answers to my questions. If I missed them I apologize. What did I miss?”

          You missed this, a general answer:
          “You don’t abhor George Floyd’s death any more than I do. Look at who runs, who has claimed responsibly for, who lives in, and who has made promises about the future of, these cities for generations. Look at the rates of black on black crime in these cities, for example. These problems are far bigger, far deeper, and far more complex than the murder of a single man, no matter how abhorrent and inexcusable his death was.”

          The rest of your questions such as:

          “Anybody in this conversation want their kid to be a cop or a sheriff’s deputy?
          Anybody got a full list of the laws they don’t want enforced?
          Anybody moving to Minneapolis?
          Anybody expect the fire department or EMS in Minneapolis to respond in neighborhoods where violence been reported?
          Anybody think racism has not been under attack in America, successfully, since 1960?”

          These questions I cannot intelligently answer here except by “Yes, No, Maybe, and/or Who Knows,” which answers are useless since they don’t touch the subject at hand and cannot be answered in the absence of far more information and knowledge of particular circumstances at particular times, and general learning of writer and reader informed by say Thomas Sowell views of Discrimination and Disparities:

          Another words “these problems are far bigger, far deeper, and far more complex than the murder of a single man, no matter how abhorrent and inexcusable his death was.”

          Plus truth, facts, and reason are vanishing now at alarming rates in these hysterical age.

    • It’s not so much about George Floyd nor Minneapolis as it is about all the George Floyds that preceded him in all the other cities that they died in.

      You have to start there… if you really want to understand …the protestors.

      And it’s not about two choices either. It’s not binary.

      • You too, Larry. What are your answers to my questions?

        • your questions are largely rhetorical and based on your viewpoint and you cast them in binary terms – like we can either have public safety or not…

          that’s really not an interest in the answers… you purposely put yourself in opposition to those who want change… and seem to advocate status-quo.

          What changes do you support?

          but I would provide my answer to them one at a time – your choice which ones..

          • As usual, you avoid questions you don’t wish to answer. How hard are:
            Anybody in this conversation want their kid to be a cop or a sheriff’s deputy?
            Anybody got a full list of the laws they don’t want enforced?
            Anybody moving to Minneapolis?
            Anybody expect the fire department or EMS in Minneapolis to respond in neighborhoods where violence been reported?
            Anybody think racism has not been under attack in America, successfully, since 1960?
            Systemic racism is defined as “racism resulting from the inherent biases and prejudices of the policies and practices of social and political organizations, groups, or institutions”.
            Anybody think police departments across America, including majority minority forces, are “systemically” racist in cities that have been run by Democrats for more than five decades?

            Pretty straightforward, and yes, binary. Every decision at the end of consideration is binary – meaning all possible answers were considered and rejected until the most promising or least disturbing of the final two options is chosen. Otherwise there is no decision.
            Answer the questions. Then explain your answers to your heart’s content. Or don’t. That itself is a decision, and a binary one. If you choose still to ignore them, then we are free to judge why.

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