Vail Valley: Military surplus aids local special ops unit
By the numbers
Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle
MRAP vehicles usually have V-shaped hulls to deflect explosive forces from land mines or IEDs below the vehicle, thereby protecting vehicle and passengers.
Height: 9 feet
Weight: 58,000 pounds, about the same as a twin-axle dump truck carrying a full load of gravel. A semi-truck carrying its maximum legal load weighs around 80,000 pounds.
EAGLE — Because they never know what they’ll be called into, or where, local law enforcement’s Special Operations Unit recently spent a day making sure every team member can drive through anything with every one of its vehicles — including an Army surplus armored personnel carrier.
The Special Operations Unit is the local version of a SWAT team.
The team does vehicle training on a technical driving course, not a high speed course.
“As an SOU team, we’re not rushing to get to a scene because someone is probably already there,” said Vail Police Department Detective Sergeant and SOU team member Luke Causey said. “Patrol response is very fast, and our response need to be more technically-oriented.”
Everyone drives everything
Every SOU member practices in every vehicle several times per year — there are police patrol vehicles, armored personnel carriers, a dedicated ambulance, trucks packed with all kinds of gear and the team’s largest member, an MRAP — short for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected.
The MRAP weighs 58,000 pounds, about the same as a dump truck hauling a full load of gravel.
An MRAP (pronounced EM-rap) was developed by the U.S. military to withstand improvised explosive device attacks and ambushes. The MRAP program began in 2007 as a response to the increased threat of IEDs during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. From 2007 until 2012, the MRAP program deployed more than 12,000 vehicles to those war zones. MRAP production ended in 2012.
Jessie Rector, entry team operator with the SOU and a member of the Vail Police Department, was serving in the military in the Middle East when a couple of MRAPs rolled with him in them.
“One of the reasons we’re out here is to become familiar with its capabilities, what it can and cannot do,” Rector said.
They use the big rig slowly and yes, it will go 65 mph, but it arrives at a deliberate pace. It makes quite an entrance.
Rector explained that during Middle East fighting the MRAP was often used as protection from enemy gunfire, as much as for hauling people and gear.
The local SOU team used the vehicle in September, 2015 for that exact purpose during an armed robbery at a Gypsum clothing and check cashing store. At least five shots had been fired, and the SOU team was using the MRAP for cover as members slowly worked their way through the neighborhood searching for the shooters.
The MRAP will stop a .50 caliber bullet, said Avon Police Chief and SOU member Greg Daly.
“We have had calls where the suspect had .50 caliber rifles,” Daly said.
The SOU’s smaller Peacekeeper vehicles are armored, but not to the extent the MRAP is. The local SOU team acquired the Peacekeepers from the U.S. Air Force, which used them in Wyoming to keep watch on nuclear missile silos.
Practically free for us
The MRAP costs $733,000 new, but costs local taxpayers almost nothing. Eagle County acquired it through a federal grant program.
The military took off the armored top and removed the gun turret, outfitted it with a new engine and parked it on what amounts to a car lot in Texas — compete with a price sticker in the window.
The only thing the locals had to do was hire a tractor-trailer to haul it from Texas to Eagle County, mount some police lights, a siren and some graphics, and start using it to subdue bad guys.
All in all, three local law enforcement agencies — the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and the Vail and Avon police departments — split the $18,000 cost.
Daly said law enforcement officials are sensitive to the concerns about the militarization of police around the country.
An avalanche of negative publicity followed the use of military vehicles during the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere. But those Ferguson vehicles were not military transfer vehicles, Daly explained. They were purchased directly by those agencies.
“There was a lot of misunderstanding about it. Agencies have those vehicles to help the community, not to suppress the community,” Daly said. “This is a community-owned vehicle.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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