“We have to be proactive,” said Chief John Thomas. “We hope and pray we won’t need that kind of vehicle, but we don’t have that reassurance.”
In recent weeks, two mass shootings have occurred across the nation. At least 12 people were killed at the Washington Navy Yard on Sept. 16. Three days later, 13 people were injured at a Chicago park.
Thomas said the department needs to be prepared in case of such situations.
The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle came to the department through its membership to the Law Enforcement Support Office, also known as the 1033 Program, which is connected to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency.
The department has held a membership since the 1990s. For an annual membership fee of $1,000, the agency has acquired more than $1 million in equipment and property from the U.S. Department of Defense.
Lt. Tim Thornton said the MRAP vehicle is the most expensive item they have acquired.
Items obtained over the years include M-16 rifles, aim point weapon sights, chain saws, rifle magazines, extrication tools, weapon-mounted flashlights and firefighter apparel.
About 55 agencies throughout the country received an MRAP vehicle through the program.
North Augusta police pay their fee with confiscated illegal drug money. The fee is the only cost associated with any equipment obtained through the program.
The agency did pay to have the MRAP transported by trailer from Fort Bragg, N.C., last week with more confiscated drug money.
“The irony of it all is we pay membership fees with illegal drug seizures, so illegal drug activity is paying for this,” Thornton said.
Thomas said he does not expect the maintenance costs to be very high. North Augusta’s vehicle has been used by the military since 2008, has gone about 5,000 miles and is fully bulletproof. The vehicle has seats suspended by rope with adjustable harnesses that protect occupants if it hits a land mine and becomes airborne.
The vehicle has been gutted of military equipment, and public safety has more to do, including a new paint job, before it’s ready for use. Several members of the SWAT team also have to be trained to drive it.
Police said the armored vehicle would have been useful in several cases over the past year, including the extreme rain the area saw over the summer. The vehicle can easily navigate through moving water higher than three feet.
Last year, public safety dealt with an armed barricaded suspect in a heavily populated apartment complex. Police said the vehicle would have been the preferred choice to approach the building, communicate with the shooter or deploy tear gas. Instead, the SWAT team used hand-held shields. The gunman did open fire, but no one was injured.