Johnson County Supervisors weigh replacing MRAP with smaller armored vehicle

Supervisors were split on the prospect of spending $240,000 to replace the county’s military-style armored vehicle.


Jake Wicks

Johnson County residents protest the use by law enforcement of armored vehicles at the Johnson County Board of Supervisors meeting held at the County Administration Building on December 6 2021. The meeting focused primarily on the Sheriff Department’s budget for the next fiscal year and the purchasing of a Bearcat G2 armored vehicle.

Cooper Worth, News Reporter

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors is divided on a $240,000 proposal by the sheriff to replace its Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle with a smaller armored truck.

The county is considering a request from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office to purchase a BearCat G2 armored vehicle to replace the county’s current armored vehicle, also called an MRAP.

During a work session meeting on Monday, supervisor Royceann Porter said she would vote in favor of purchasing the BearCat, while supervisors Jon Green and Lisa Green-Douglass said they would not support the purchasing of a new armored vehicle.

Chair Pat Heiden did not comment on the purchase, and supervisor Rod Sullivan has yet to decide on his vote.

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office has faced calls from community activists, and some supervisors, to get rid of the MRAP vehicle. Kunkel previously told the board that his office would keep the MRAP unless the board approved the purchase of a different vehicle to replace it.

Both the MRAP and BearCat vehicles are armored vehicles built to withstand bullet fire. The BearCat is smaller and is a standard rescue vehicle in U.S. SWAT operations.

The MRAP is a larger military vehicle used to resist mines and improvised explosive devices. The vehicle was given to the county in 2014 as part of the federal government’s 1033 program, which gives military equipment to law enforcement.

Green said during Monday’s meeting that his only encounter with the MRAP vehicle was on June 3, 2020, when Green’s partner was tear-gassed by local law enforcement during a protest against police brutality.

Green said he doesn’t believe the MRAP and vehicles like it are necessary to patrol the streets of Johnson County.

“I think it’s inappropriate to have weapons of war in our community, whether they come straight from the army or from defense contractors,” he said. “I don’t think that it’s the most responsible use of the funds [that] were charged with dispersing.”

Sheriff Brad Kunkel said at Monday’s meeting that he understands the anxiety citizens have about these armored vehicles, but his job is to make sure that his deputies are safe.

“We have to be prepared for those times where everything else fails, and I don’t live and work in the world that ought to be,” he said. “We work in the world that is, and that is sometimes there are dangerous situations that we send people into harm’s way, and to keep them safe, sometimes they need to do it within the confines of an armored vehicle.”

The MRAP, which has been with the county and Iowa City since 2014, has responded to 19 calls since that year. According to Kunkel’s presentation, 16 of the calls were for shooting, homicide, or firearms-related investigations.

In addition to shootings, it can be deployed by any local law enforcement agency or the Emergency Management Agency for emergency and disaster responses and for a variety of public safety missions.

The BearCat was included in the Sheriff’s Office’s fiscal year 2023 proposed budget during Monday’s meeting, which totaled $810,841. The cost of the BearCat is $240,000.

Supervisor Lisa Green-Douglass said the Sheriff’s Office should return the MRAP vehicle.

“I could never support the BearCat,” she said. “Again, [I] will go on record as not supporting the MRAP, and I would urge you all to consider the benefit that it has given to your department, and the impact it has had on the public, and think about returning it.”

Supervisor Rod Sullivan said in an interview with the *DI* that he is hesitant on whether to support funding the BearCat because of how the Iowa City Police Department handles the current armored vehicle.

“I don’t really have any issues with the way in which the Sheriff’s Office has used the vehicle — I think the use has been appropriate,” he said. “I do have concerns about the way the police department in Iowa City has used it, and I want some reassurance there before I make up my mind.”

The Iowa City Police Department has used the MRAP seven times, including four times in the South District, which has a higher proportion of Black residents, as the Daily Iowan previously reported.

Iowa City resident David Hampel said during public comment that seeing the MRAP in the streets during the 2020 summer protests reminded him of how citizens were treated in the 1960s while protesting the Vietnam War.

“This means to me that the [supervisors] who represent us, don’t give a hang about what’s going on,” he said. ”Buying this stupid machine just takes me back, and it’s just a bad move.”

Johnson County resident Sean McRoberts said Johnson County should not purchase the BearCat or any additional paramilitary equipment.

“These vehicles send the message that the county is prepared to go to war with its citizens,” McRoberts said. “We will strengthen our community, not through purchasing or being granted more or different vehicles and weapons, but by disarming in order to build trust and improve community cohesion.”

Porter previously said at supervisors meetings that she did not want to see the MRAP in her neighborhood, Iowa City’s South district, but supports the BearCat, which she compared to the size of an ambulance.

She said on Monday that she found the MRAP “very intimidating,” and pointed out that if the board voted against the BearCat, the MRAP vehicle would continue to be used by law enforcement in Johnson County.

“If we don’t vote on the BearCat, the MRAP is still going to be in our community,” she said. “That is what they will continue to use. All five of us up here do not have a say in that.”

The Board will vote to approve the Sheriff’s Office’s fiscal year 2023 budget on Jan. 12.

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