City police forces and countywide agencies have benefited from a federal program that provides them with military equipment.
Property logs from the Ohio Department of Public Safety show seven military vehicles went to Medina County police departments.
Brunswick got five of the vehicles, including a heavily armored, 18-ton MRAP — short for “mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle” — three Humvee utility vehicles and a van.
In addition to vehicles, 38 M16 and 12 M14 rifles are counted among the military equipment provided to local police agencies.
Military surplus equipment programs have garnered attention in the last week after police in Ferguson, Missouri, have been using two Humvees and other military equipment against protesters following the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a local police officer.
Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said he thinks some military equipment could have a use for local police, but there is little oversight to prevent departments from using it to threaten or intimidate their residents.
“Our concern is how this equipment is being used and how it’s being obtained,” Daniels said. “This is military equipment that wasn’t really designed or meant for community policing.”
Daniels said the ACLU, an advocacy group that works to protect constitutional liberties, has long been wary of a build-up of military vehicles and equipment by local police departments.
“We’ve been talking about this issue long before Ferguson ever happened,” he said. “We see a ramp-up by police and they’re becoming indistinguishable from our military.”
The federal program that allows police agencies to apply for and receive military equipment also requires departments to deploy and use the equipment they receive, he said.
“Under the 1033 program, they have to use them and must deploy them within one year’s time,” he said. “Many of these departments don’t need it, but they will take it if they can get it. And they’ll find ways to use it.”
Daniels said some reuses of military supplies make sense. In addition to vehicles and rifles, police agencies in Medina County have received flares and light equipment, battery supplies, toolkits and generators through the federal program.
“I can think of a number of equipment and items that do not present a civil liberties problem,” he said. “Certainly there are uses we can agree are helpful to law enforcement. But the problem is this build-up of weapons out of the public eye.”
Brunswick Police Chief Carl DeForest said the events in Ferguson don’t reflect the way all agencies use their military equipment.
“I think the efforts to prevent agencies from receiving this equipment is a knee-jerk reaction to one incident,” he said.
DeForest said the giant MRAP, which sits high above the streets, is not meant for crowd control or to intimidate residents. He said the vehicle, which was put into service in February without any publicity, can assist in both standoff and active-shooter situations and in rescue operations.
“We rescued about eight to 10 people from the tops of their cars this spring after we had flash flooding,” DeForest said.
Designed to ford 3-foot-deep water, the MRAP was the only vehicle high enough to navigate the floodwaters, he said.
Though it’s listed among Brunswick’s registry, the MRAP is available to the Medina County Sheriff’s Office and SWAT team and any municipalities that might need it.
“I also called the Emergency Management Office and told them it would be available should they ever need it,” he said.
Most recently, the mine-resistant vehicle was used during a standoff between police and an armed man in Medina Township on July 29. The man, armed with a 9mm handgun, arrived at his ex-girlfriend’s home. She escaped with her daughter and called police. When officers arrived, he threatened to kill himself.
The SWAT team was called and brought the MRAP. The man surrendered after a four-hour standoff.
DeForest said it makes sense to send armored vehicles to scenes where there is an armed or active shooting suspect.
“If I have a choice to send an armored vehicle or a squad car they can be shot in, I’m going to send an armored vehicle,” DeForest said.
DeForest said his agency applied for four Humvees in 2011 because it assumed it might have to take parts from some vehicles to keep others working.
DeForest, a former military police officer, said he knew the kind of duty the machines would be used for by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was surprised when all four arrived in good running condition.
“We didn’t expect to get four in working order,” he said. One of the Humvees got a new paint job and is displayed during police events and parades. One was given to another agency, and two more were kept for hauling equipment around.
“We don’t have any pickup trucks, so if we need to buy drywall at Home Depot, for example, we can take the Humvee,” he said.
Montville Township Police Chief Terry Grice said he plans to use the generator his department received in the event of a power outage at any township building. His department also received some toolkits and a vehicle lift.
“We use that to do our own oil changes and tire rotations and save a little bit of money,” he said.
Grice’s department received a Humvee earlier this year and South of the Square Collision Center, of Medina, provided bodywork upgrades at no cost to turn the vehicle into a DARE car for his school resource officer.
“It was at no cost and it’s used for publicity and our DARE program,” he said.
Grice said his department doesn’t need other vehicles, because they can rely on the services provided by the county SWAT team and vehicles in the Brunswick Police Department.