York Sheriff defends armored vehicle as useful, necessary

YORKTOWN, Va. (WAVY) – Sheriff Danny Diggs says his 26-ton military-style vehicle is a vital and useful tool for his department. The York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Department now has a mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle. The MRAP came from a military surplus program utilized by hundreds of departments across the country, including Ferguson, Missouri. Civil rights activists have criticized Ferguson police, saying military vehicles, assault rifles and other surplus gear make police look like instruments of war rather than keepers of the peace. Diggs disagrees.  “When people are out there looting and rioting, do you expect us to show up in blue jeans and a ballcap?” he asked.

Photos: York County Sheriff’s Department’s MRAP

Diggs says the MRAP has uses other than law enforcement and crowd control. Its 36-inch ground clearance and sealed hull make it useful for rescues during floods. Its armor plating is needed to protect officers and residents in situations where an active shooter is threatening, or when a bomb is involved. “If things go bad in your neighborhood, or you’re the person that’s being held down because of a sniper, wouldn’t you like to see us show up in this, and be able to effect a rescue of your mother, or our children, or yourself?”

When the department got the vehicle, Diggs says some of his critics thought it would be a costly waste of money. The vehicle is valued at $600,000, but because it comes from Army surplus, the MRAP was given to the department. The only associated costs were $6,000 to transport it from Texas to the Peninsula.  Diggs says that was paid for by money seized in drug busts, so the armored vehicle costs the taxpayers nothing.

The MRAP runs on common diesel fuel, and its engine is similar to those in other county vehicles. The vehicle is larger than the model Diggs needed, but he says he had to take what was available. Ten of the department’s 84 officers are trained to operate it.

Departments in Virginia Beach and Currituck County, NC have armored vehicles obtained from military surplus.

Diggs talked about the use of armored vehicles by police in Ferguson. “The first day local police tried to quell the situation as best they could,” he said. “The next day (they) need help, the state police come in. They bring all kinds of equipment. The state police are overwhelmed. We gotta bring the national guard in. So maybe more of this on the first day would have stopped it, who knows.”

Critics have said the armored vehicles, assault rifles, night vision goggles, and smoke grenade launchers available from the military are threatening and unnecessary. Diggs wonders why it’s now in the critics’ crosshairs, given that the surplus program has been around for decades,

“So now here in 2014, it’s a bad idea? Or is it some politically motivated hot button issue of the day?” Diggs says the outcry will soon die down. “There’s things that come to the forefront… and after the cooling off period, and everybody starts to really give it some serous thought, it’s not so bad.”

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