Virginia Beach police preparing tank-like truck for SWAT team

Posted at 5:40 PM, Aug 22, 2014

Virginia Beach, Va. - Virginia Beach police officials confirmed this week they are adding a military-surplus armored truck to their fleet for SWAT operations.

The fortified truck is called a mine-resistant, ambush protected vehicle, or MRAP. It initially cost taxpayers $700,000 but the city got it without charge from the military's surplus program. These trucks once patrolled battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, built to withstand or lessen roadside bomb blasts.

In a city environment, however, some departments have found the trucks -- weighing up to 40,000 pounds -- have damaged roads and underground utilities.

"This vehicle will be used solely by SWAT during operations that require transporting of personnel by means other than which is normal," officer Jimmy Cason wrote in an email. "Execution of high-risk search warrants, active shooters, or the evacuation of persons during natural disasters are the primary examples of when and how this vehicle would be used."

Cason declined to let NewsChannel 3 show you the truck.

"No photos or video can be taken of it at this time since it has not been marked with the City of Virginia Beach Police markings," he wrote.

The American Civil Liberties Union has tracked the militarization of law enforcement more than a decade. The group says police departments are clamoring for all sorts of military surplus, because it is free. The agency says when police are equipped like soldiers, they can act like soldiers.

Military surplus has armed Hampton Roads police forces just like Ferguson’s

"I do not want police officers to be exposed to more risk in their jobs than they already are," said Claire Gastanaga, of the ACLU's Richmond office. "But that doesn`t mean we shouldn't be careful and considered about how we equip our officers."

Hundreds of police departments across the country have asked for, and received, MRAPs and similar vehicles from the Pentagon's military-surplus program.

The vehicles are generally transferred to police without cost. But after that, local police departments are responsible for all expenses.

A handful of police agencies, like the Saginaw County, Mich., sheriff's department, have parked their MRAPs, citing high maintenance cost and low usefulness.

It is also a vehicle that has stirred controversy over whether police have taken this military-surplus program too far. The President, some members of Congress, and civil-liberties groups have either criticized the program, or said it needs review. President Obama said he worried the surplus program might blur the lines between police and soldiers. Some of the first national images from the clashes in Ferguson, Mo., showed officers clad in battlefield gear and surrounding armored trucks. That overwhelming show of force led to clashes with protesters and a national debate on the surplus program.

Cason said the MRAP is a vehicle the city's officers need.

"The addition of this vehicle greatly enhances our department's abilities during situations that come at high risk to the officers," he said.