Lawrence tactical vehicle donation garners criticism

Police lights
(WISH Photo/Brett Bensley)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The Libertarian Party of Marion County called Wednesday for the Lawrence Police Department to return a large tactical vehicle recently donated by the U.S. military through a program that’s also provided high powered weapons to police. The call follows an I-Team 8 investigation that found dozens of those weapons recently went missing.

The 48,000-pound, 12-foot high, mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle — or MRAP — was donated free of charge through a military surplus program known as LESO 1033, administered by the Michigan based Defense Logistics Agency (DLA).

Indiana receives around $14 million in surplus equipment through the program each year, including M-16’s, M-14’s, shotguns and handguns once used by American troops.

Lawrence is at least the eighth Indiana law enforcement agency to receive the MRAP vehicle, which was originally designed for use in conflict zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. Others who have received MRAPs through the program include West Lafayette, Terre Haute Police Departments and sheriff’s offices in Johnson and Morgan counties. The vehicles are modified to be used by SWAT officers in standoff situations or during emergency calls like bomb threats.

But, the Libertarian Party says the MRAP is out of place off the battlefield.

“This is a war machine that has no place on our city streets,” Libertarian Party Vice-Chair Josh Featherstone said in a statement Wednesday. “The ongoing militarization of our police force does not create a feeling of safety in our households. Militarized police in our neighborhoods create fear.”

Supporters argue the program has helped make streets safer and save lives in situations like a standoff in Fort Wayne late last year. SWAT officers there used weapons and vehicles donated through the LESO 1033 program to successfully rescue a 3-year-old child held hostage inside a home.

But, last year, I-Team 8 also discovered dozens of those donated weapons had vanished from police departments across the country, and no state is missing more than Indiana.

Last year, the Pentagon listed 46 LESO 1033 weapons as “missing or stolen” from inside Indiana police departments. Several departments, including IMPD, were suspended from the program.

The DLA said all departments were reinstated by late 2013, though only a small number of the missing guns have been recovered.

The weapons portion of the program was suspended nationwide following the investigation into the missing weapons, and has only recently resumed on a state-by-state, case-by-case basis.

Last April, Indiana Surplus Director Bob Flake instituted new rules requiring a full accounting of all donated military equipment from all Indiana police departments every 90 days. Departments that report weapons missing or stolen now risk being permanently removed from the program.

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