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My Position on the Armored Vehicle Debate

In a post about the increased shootings in Iowa City this year, I was clear that addressing them should be a higher priority than debating the MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Proof), pictured below. credit to Mitchell Schmidt and the Iowa City Press-Citizen). Still, the debate about equipment available for public safety is important.

So that I’m clear: Our public safety officers at the city and county level need an armored vehicle as part of their equipment and to suggest otherwise is irresponsible and dangerous.

I didn’t particularly like the program that we acquired the MRAP from. I too am concerned about over-militarization of police and whether it can cause unnecessary escalation of situations. I hear residents that feel the MRAP is unwelcome, even traumatizing, in their neighborhoods. This has led to a debate about purchasing a “Bearcat”, which is an armored vehicle designed for civilian law enforcement (also pictured below). It’s smaller, more maneuverable, and has a less intimidating presence. In my discussions with Iowa City Police Chief Liston and in his public comments to city council, he has expressed a preference for a Bearcat over the MRAP. However, the Bearcat would cost over $200,000. That’s a lot of taxpayer money, that could be used for any number of worthy causes, to replace a vehicle that we received for free. It’s a tough call, but I would lean toward making the purchase of the Bearcat given the advantages mentioned.

Use of such a vehicle should have strict guidelines on its use. There should be transparent civilian oversight to review it uses and assure such guidelines were followed. We should do more to work with residents and neighborhoods to educate them on the vehicle’s use and importance.

Unfortunately, this debate has moved from what kind of vehicle is appropriate to whether we should have an armored vehicle at all.

Two of our five Johnson County Supervisors have made clear that they don’t believe such equipment is necessary. At least one of the candidates for city council has indicated a similar view. Again, this is irresponsible and dangerous. This is not an academic exercise, dorm room debate or hypothetical Twitter battle. These are real-world decisions with consequences that impact the ability to respond to and keep residents safe during very dangerous situations.

Even if you don’t believe, as I do, that our officers are worthy of such protection, there are any number of scenarios where an armored vehicle would be critical to protecting victims and bystanders. It doesn’t take much imagination to envision situations in which bulletproof cover would be needed to evacuate people fleeing an active shooter, rescue a person unable to flee under their own power, or get help to someone cut off by gunfire. These situations happen and have happened here. In a city with increased use of guns by residents, we need to be prepared. We also sadly live in a world where we need to teach our children and educators to be prepared for an active shooter. We should expect that our public safety officials have that same preparation and the ability to protect them if such a tragedy were to occur.

I urge the Iowa City Council and Johnson County Board of Supervisors to support our agencies having access to an armored vehicle to protect our residents and rethink any notion that such equipment is unnecessary.

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