Does Kingman need a big, bad, bulletproof behemoth?
Kingman police already have MRAP; council approved it
KINGMAN - The City Council on April 15 quietly approved a request from the Kingman Police Department to accept a $733,000 armored fighting vehicle into the department's fleet.
There was no discussion before the City Council voted to approve several items that were on the consent agenda and little information regarding the item was in meeting materials.
The department took possession of the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle at the end of March. It's been sitting in a fenced area behind the department pending the City Council's approval.
The vehicle, known as an MRAP, was used by troops in Afghanistan.
The Department of Defense has provided hundreds of U.S. law enforcement agencies with an MRAP or two, along with a host of other surplus military equipment. Nations on friendly terms with the U.S. have also benefited from the Pentagon's largesse.
Lifesaver or sledgehammer?
Here in America, many people don't necessarily want their local police to be geared up for World War III - or civil unrest.
From law enforcement's perspective, the MRAP might have been built for combat, but with a few modifications these vehicles can easily be repurposed for police and not military operations.
Chief Robert DeVries said his vision for the MRAP is as a protector, not a blunt instrument used to crash through subdivision walls.
There is no longer a turret on the roof for a .50-caliber machine gun. In fact, only the blast-resistant shell of the vehicle remains from this particular MRAP's time in combat.
It has a brand new chassis, drivetrain and diesel engine, according to DeVries, that were installed by mechanics at BAE Systems, the MRAP manufacturer in Sealy, Texas.
So why would the Kingman Police Department need an MRAP, which was designed specifically to protect combat troops from improvised explosive devices?
Contrary to critics, said DeVries, the plan isn't to use the MRAP to batter Kingman's population into submission so the United Nations can take our guns and steal our daughters.
Rather, said DeVries, the MRAP will be used to protect officers and "anyone else in the danger zone."
"This vehicle is not meant as an offensive weapon," he said. "It's to protect officers and others. It has a high clearance and can be submerged for swiftwater rescues."
The MRAP can also be used to protect innocents in standoff situations.
Why Kingman needs one
DeVries mentioned an incident last fall when a distraught knife-wielding man on Willow Street with access to guns barricaded himself in his home.
Kingman Police officers were able to evacuate neighbors, but officers exposed themselves to potential gunfire and had to evacuate neighbors one at a time.
The incident ended peacefully, but DeVries said it showed officer and public safety was compromised.
The Willow Street event didn't give DeVries the idea for an MRAP, but it let him know more had to be done for officer safety.
The KPD is serving more search warrants today than at any point in its history - and doing so has become more dangerous than ever before, he said.
"Our officers are encountering more high-powered weapons and more of these guys have surveillance systems that warn them when we arrive. That exposes officers to an unacceptable risk," he said.
Three officers shot on duty
Kingman isn't close to being equal to Phoenix in terms of the number of violent desperadoes running wild, but the city's officers have seen their share of bad characters.
Three officers have sustained gunshot wounds in the 11 years DeVries has led the department. He admits having an MRAP around wouldn't have stopped any one of them, but he also says officers face danger far more often than many residents realize.
Asked to elaborate on the shootings, DeVries doesn't hesitate:
December 2003: Mike Bolt was chasing a wanted fugitive when he was shot in the chest. The bullet struck his vest, which saved Bolt's life. The fugitive was apprehended.
December 2004: Lt. Mark Chastain, who was an officer at the time, was shot in the shoulder by an 18-year-old motorist he pulled over for an equipment violation in front of the Circle K on Stockton Hill Road and Detroit Avenue.
After he was shot, Chastain returned fire and killed the man.
Chastain was about to hand the man a fix-it ticket.
August 2009: Officer Tim Sparr was shot in the arm during a deadly domestic incident.
Holly Jean Anderson had just handed her infant to Chastain, who responded to the home with Sparr, when her husband shot her in the head.
The bullet traveled through Anderson and struck Sparr.
The husband shot and killed himself moments later.
"That's a significant number of officer involved shootings for a community our size," said DeVries.
Sometimes, crime does pay
The police department utilized money convicted drug dealers have forfeited to have the MRAP shipped from Texas to Kingman at a cost of $4,300.
DeVries said drug seizure money would also be used to have the MRAP outfitted for law enforcement purposes.
That means lights will be installed - although the 17-ton vehicle will never run code.
"We want people to know this is a police vehicle," said DeVries. "It will be clearly marked."
A radio and other items must be purchased and installed and the MRAP itself needs to have interior parts replaced.
Because the essential parts of the vehicle are brand new, maintenance costs won't be prohibitive, and the department has access to parts, said Deputy Police Chief Rusty Cooper.
Search warrants and bombs
Without adequate manpower or time for extensive training, the Kingman Police Department does not have its own SWAT team.
Detectives, however, are trained to serve search warrants and the MRAP, said DeVries, will play a big part in such operations going forward.
The vehicle's ballistic protection means officers won't have to expose themselves to gunfire and the MRAP has proved to be effective in hostage situations.
To people who worry local law enforcement has become too aggressive and militaristic in its approach to fighting crime, DeVries was circumspect:
"It doesn't matter what we say. There will be people who oppose it, but when we get people safely out of a situation, we'll know it was the right decision."
For DeVries, the MRAP is just one more way he can help officers survive every shift.
"I have a deep passion and commitment to provide the safest work environment I can," he said. "I want them all to go home to their families every day."