During the pandemic, police departments across the country decided that now would be a great time to acquire armored tanks. And the reasons they use to justify those purchases are infuriating.
"It can’t look like what we see in these pictures here," Assembly member Christine Woll said. "It’s a small thing, but I think it helps people understand what’s coming toward them in that moment," Woll said.
After receiving startled reactions from the public, the police department claimed that they needed a tank to protect the public from extremist protests.
"The BearCat is a customizable all-steel armored vehicle that accommodates up to 12 fully-equipped officers, and used by police departments and other agencies for everything from rescues in difficult-to-access remote areas to “extremist” protests where gunfire and other threats are present."
Using the threat of "extremist" protests as a reason to purchase an armored tank is about as absurd as it gets. Or so I thought.
The Juneau police also claimed to need an armored tank to respond to landslides and avalanches.
"The Juneau Police Department envisions using the BearCat to respond to natural disasters such as landslides and avalanches where road access is impossible for existing vehicles, as well as high-threat situations such as evacuating people from neighborhoods while under gunfire."
Which excuse is more preposterous? I am not sure, but I think it is probably the first: protecting the public from extremist protests. A close second, is needing tanks to respond to landslides and avalanches which stretches law enforcement's credulity to absurd lengths.
But it gets better, as Deputy Police Chief David Campbell explains.
“A tremendous amount of thought went into this here – it’s not a knee jerk reaction,” he said. “To me my question isn’t why do we need this, it’s why haven’t we had this all along?”
This is a four-wheel-drive vehicle,” Kobi Medlock, Special Response Team commander said. “It can traverse through 2 feet of standing water, and it’s also Category 4 hurricane wind-speed rated. So, it’s a dual-purpose type vehicle the Madison Police Department has invested in.”
Coweta County police claim to need to an armored tank to use during inclement weather to drive over fallen trees or to intimidate suspects as needed.
"Today, indigenous water protectors once again arrived at a Dakota Access Pipeline construction site to halt work and hold prayer ceremonies. Police arrived with several military-style armored vehicles, and threatened water protectors with shotguns. We are hearing reports of up to 21 arrests" the Unicorn Riot said.
"During confrontations between police and protesters, officers rode in armored vehicles and fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters, a response that drew a rebuke from Mayor Tom Barrett, pointed questions from Common Council members and condemnation from the ACLU of Wisconsin."
As NBC News revealed police from Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Utah and a New Orleans suburb used armored tanks on BLM protesters at least twenty-nine times.
"NBC News has found at least 29 instances on social media and in news accounts where military-style vehicles that belong to local police departments have been used to confront protesters since Floyd's death on May 25. At least 17 of the vehicles were deployed by police departments that obtained mine-resistant vehicles (MRAPs) through a controversial Pentagon military surplus program launched in 1997 under President Clinton."
"The sheriff of Beaver County, Pennsylvania, went so far as to assert that a police officer could die serving a notice of a civil lawsuit — and so his agency ought to have two armored vehicles."
As the article explained, police departments sent 1,200 letters to the Department of Defense asking for armored tanks because a suspect "could become violent or because their populations are spread out."
Police departments also claim to need armored tanks "to intimidate vulnerable members of their communities."
"The letters also reflect a disturbing comfort with — even an expectation of — using military gear and tactics to respond to civil demonstrators. Multiple agencies explicitly asked for armored vehicles to use at protests against police violence toward Black people and pipeline resistance led by Native Americans."
A representative for the manufacturer was asked by Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer why police would use the manufacturer’s armored vehicles against protesters. "The Armored Group representative said police need these trucks for protests because protesters might shoot at cops," Bauer reported.
Common Dreams reporter Kevin Gosztola was right, manufacturers and law enforcement are worried about the public's perception that police officers are really using armored tanks against civilians exercising their First Amendment rights.
Government Fleet.com reveals that police departments should be selective in the tactics they use to convince the public.
"An armored vehicle has to be very carefully introduced into the public arena," he says. "Law enforcement are the guardians assigned to keep an eye on society and to take care of society. We need to be user-friendly to the public. These vehicles can make it difficult to appear user-friendly."
Community education helps departments maintain their user-friendly image within the community. Major Charlie Caldwell of the Lake County Sheriff's Office says Lake County takes its vehicles to festivals, fairs, and other community functions. Officers man the equipment and do a show and tell of their capabilities. "We allow children and adults to get into the vehicle and see what it's like," he says. "Then we tell them why we have it, when it's necessary to use it, and the ways we use it. It's necessary to talk about this and that's how we try to do it here."Police One has published eight bullet points that police departments should use to convince the public about the need for armored tanks. But number five titled, "Keep A Low Profile" is probably the most revealing.
"Fight the urge to take team photos in belligerent, tough-guy poses. They will be used against you. It is important for special team members to always emphasize the truth of law enforcement that is affixed to nearly every squad in the nation. Like all cops, SWAT teams exist to “serve and protect” under the most difficult circumstances."
Obviously, police should fight the urge to reveal the true nature of belligerent, tough guy cops in armored tanks because they don't want the public to see them for who they really are.
We can no longer sit idly by as law enforcement and DHS turn every police department into quasi-military bases complete with assault weapons and armored tanks. Law enforcement will use any excuse, no matter how absurd, to reach their goal of total militarization of every police department across the country.