Johnson County Sheriff to keep MRAP for now

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office’s armored military vehicle will remain in the agency’s possession, but some supervisors were interested in replacing it with a smaller armored truck.


Emily Wangen

Johnson County Supervisors Rod Sullivan and Royceeann Porter listen to a presentation during a meeting on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2020.

Caleb McCullough, Executive Editor

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office’s Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle will remain in the county for now.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors decided in an informal meeting Thursday to defer the decision on whether to purchase a Lenco BearCat to replace the military vehicle to a future budget proposal.

The Sheriff’s Office and the county have received criticism in recent months over use of the MRAP, an armored, defensive vehicle used by the military to withstand explosives.

The MRAP was assigned to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office in 2014 by the federal government through the 1033 program. It has responded to 19 call-outs since 2014, as previously reported by The Daily Iowan.

Sheriff Brad Kunkel suggested to the supervisors in June that the office could purchase a Lenco BearCat, an armored vehicle that is smaller and more geared toward civilian settings.

Supervisors were split over whether to keep the MRAP, replace it with the BearCat, or ask the sheriff to get rid of the armored vehicle altogether.

Supervisors Jon Green and Lisa Green-Douglas voted no on purchasing the BearCat, saying they didn’t want the Sheriff’s office to have either vehicle.

Green noted local law enforcement have other options for responding to dangerous situations like borrowing vehicles from neighboring agencies.

“I think that we have options to be reactive, and I do not believe this discussion about armored personnel carriers is the best way to proactively address gun violence,” Green said.

Some Iowa City activists have raised concerns about the MRAP’s use in Iowa City, saying it is an unwelcome presence and often goes into neighborhoods with a high percentage of people of color.

Iowa City resident Dan Kauble said during the meeting that armored vehicles have been used unnecessarily by local agencies, and their presence makes residents of Iowa City uncomfortable.

“They have used these vehicles in situations when they are not needed, and they use them disproportionately in BIPOC neighborhoods,” he said.

According to a memo from Iowa City Police Chief Dustin Liston in July, out of seven times the Iowa City Police have deployed the MRAP, four have been in the South District, which has a higher proportion of Black residents.

Supervisors Pat Heiden and Royceann Porter wanted to purchase the BearCat, and Supervisor Rod Sullivan wanted to defer to a future budget proposal, which Heiden and Porter then agreed to.

Heiden and Porter brought up a recent increase in gun violence in Iowa City to justify the use of an armored vehicle by the county agency.

Porter, who lives in the South District, said the MRAP is an intimidating presence in Iowa City’s neighborhoods. But, noting recent instances of gun violence in Iowa City, she said the county officers need some protection when entering dangerous situations.

“If these people were my family and they were murdered, I wouldn’t care if you dropped out of the sky in a helicopter to get these people,” she said.

Kunkel said during the meeting that if the board does not approve a purchase of the BearCat, he plans on keeping the MRAP.

“Should the board choose not to fund this, the MRAP’s not going anywhere,” he said. “…I’m not going leave us unprotected without some sort of armored vehicle in place.”