WASHINGTON, Iowa- A police vehicle request going to the Washington City Council next week is likely to generate more than the usual amount of interest in the community. That's because Police Chief Greg Goodman is asking for an armored vehicle for his 11-officer department.
The armored vehicle in question is a "demilitarized" version of the Army's Mine Resistant Ambush Protected troop transport better known as an MRAP. Goodman said the vehicle in question is missing the weapons turret, other military hardware and electronics. Right now, it's sitting at an Army base in Texas and police in Washington could have it for free under the U.S. Defense Department's 1033 program which gives away surplus or leftover military equipment to law enforcement. The only cost to acquire the MRAP, which costs about $500,000 new, would be the cost to transport it from Texas back to Iowa. Goodman said the vehicle being offered to his department has fewer than 9,000 miles on it and never left the country on any military deployment.
"Do I think it will be used a lot. I don't," Chief Goodman said adding "but it only takes one time to make a huge difference."
Goodman said some in Washington who've heard about his request wonder if he's trying to militarize the department. He said "no" and hopes to convince skeptics police could use an armored vehicle for safely responding to special circumstances such as an active shooter in a building or a standoff situation with an armed person.
The chief said he actually saw the need in 2011 when Keokuk County Sgt. Eric Stein was shot and killed by a gunman while trying to serve a warrant. Goodman and others from his department responded to the call for help from that neighboring department.
He believes the use of a protected vehicle in that case might have allowed police to approach the home in safety from gunfire and use non-lethal means, such as tear gas, to subdue the shooter.
Sandra Johnson, Washington mayor, said the idea of an armored vehicle for police might sound a little extreme. But she believes the chief has made a case considering it would cost the city very little to obtain the surplus vehicle.
"The deer slugs that killed the officer in Keokuk County would pierce the vehicle of any of our law enforcement districts. That's all they've got," the mayor said.
Mayor Johnson said, armor aside, the vehicle with all the military hardware removed is really just a big truck. She believes city mechanics who work on large vehicles could handle any maintenance. The mayor believes the armored vehicle, which gets about five miles to the gallon of fuel, would only cost a few thousand dollars a year to operate because it would not get a lot of use.
But council member Bob Shellmyer, who's a definite "no" vote on the police request, scoffs at both the plan and the estimated ongoing expense for the city.
"They're approaching it with the sense that it's free. I'm in my third year on the council and the police department has never stayed within their budget," Shellmyer said.
The mayor said if the city does obtain the armored vehicle it's possible other departments within a several county region might be willing to share some of the costs. Mutual Aid agreements already exist for one department to assist another. But the mayor says it's possible departments might be willing to contribute on an ongoing basis for more use of the vehicle such as training.
Chief Goodman said he put his department on a request list for an surplus armored vehicle several years ago. If Washington doesn't accept the offer soon, then the military might skip to the next department on the request list.
The chief also said Buena Vista County in northern Iowa received a similar armored vehicle for police about eight months ago. It's been used twice in that time and in one instance a man in a standoff with police then surrendered peacefully as soon as the vehicle approached.
The Washington City Council is set to vote on the chief's request Tuesday, March 4th. The city council meeting begins at 6:00 p.m.