Johnson County sheriff’s army truck is here to stay

A request to purchase a new armored vehicle was rejected this week -- but not because the Board of Supervisors wanted to take a stand against police militarization

Johnson County obtained this Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP, in June 2014. (The Gazette)

Johnson County law enforcement will have to make do with their aging military surplus vehicle a while longer.

The county government will not cough up £240,000 this year to purchase a BearCat armored vehicle requested by the sheriff, the Board of Supervisors unanimously decided this week.

That is seen as a win for the police reform advocates who have spent the last few months showing up to meetings to criticize what they see as the overzealous use of intimidating police equipment. Just a few weeks ago, a majority of the board seemed to be leaning toward buying a new armored vehicle.

But the county still has its old armored vehicle. Sheriff Brad Kunkel says he is committed to maintaining some sort of armored vehicle for local officers to use.

Still, there are signs that some local officials are growing wary of never-ending police budget increases.

Johnson County's MRAP (mine-resistant, ambush protected vehicle) was developed for desert warfare.

When the United States started winding down some of its ground operations, the Obama administration took some of the MRAPs they couldn't sell to allied militaries and gave them to domestic police forces.

Former Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek acquired the MRAP through the federal government's 1033 program in 2014. His fellow elected officials on the Board of Supervisors apparently didn't know about the vehicle until it was spotted getting a new paint job.

The vehicle has been out of production for about a decade and there aren't many MRAP shops in these parts. The giant machine eventually will become unserviceable and when it does, some entity in the county -- whether it's Johnson County or another local government -- will push hard to replace it.

When that vote comes before a future board or council, it's hard to predict how elected representatives will respond.

The majority of the Board of Supervisors is not on the record as opposing having an armored vehicle.

The BearCat purchase was rejected this week in favor of other budget priorities, not because most of the supervisors wanted to take a stand against police militarization and the overuse of special tactics to serve warrants.

Still, there are signs that some local officials are growing wary of never-ending police budget increases. Supervisor Lisa Green-Douglass is not a "defund police'' type of politician but she has claimed the role of closely scrutinizing sheriff spending. Several times during the recent MRAP discussions, she has called out Kunkel over giving incomplete answers to the board's questions.

"He does present things as absolutes without looking at other options," Green-Douglass said this week.

At least 10 members of the public spoke at this week's work session against the sheriff's budget request.

They mostly focused on the MRAP but a few also advocated against purchasing new body and vehicle cameras and a "propaganda" fund for community outreach.

Supervisors opted to fund half of the sheriff's request for camera replacements and do the other half next year.

The £10,000 for community outreach had two dissenting supervisors but ultimately carried.

Supervisors approved a new deputy position but rejected funding for a patrol vehicle.

All in all, a mixed bag for those of us who want to contain law enforcement spending.

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