Police in Haverhill have set a new high-water mark for disturbing use of surplus military vehicles.
On their application for an armored vehicle referred to as an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected), the cops said their armored truck would be used for responding to natural disasters and high-risk situations.
In practice, the department is using the $658,000, 39,850-pound vehicle to intimidate residents in an effort to reduce nuisances. By policy, HPD allows the public to request that the truck be deployed outside of specific homes and in other places throughout the municipality.
In June, NECN reported that the Haverhill police had parked an MRAP on a residential street. The military vehicle was left for days just feet away from a resident’s doorstep. The reason given for the deployment was that there had been too many loud parties resulting in complaints from neighbors. NECN’s takeaway: “The Haverhill Police Department acquired the surplus military vehicle last year and turned it into their nuisance abatement vehicle that’s proven effective.”
CBS covered the story as well, and also failed to question if it was appropriate to use military equipment to intimidate residents. Neither dug into the records to see if the vehicle was obtained for this use. I did…
Paperwork provided by the Haverhill police shows that in December 2013 they cited the size of Haverhill to justify their need for the MRAP. An HPD official explained, “We are a member of the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC) which requires our department to provide up to 10 percent of the department’s officers, towards a Regional Response Team (RRT), which is available to provide SWAT, active shooter, critical incident and hostage rescue responses.”
Haverhill police did not mention that NEMLEC is a notoriously nontransparent and privately owned corporation run by police chiefs with a history of misusing federal funds. Or that this justification meant the MRAP was to be used in extreme situations—primarily as a SWAT vehicle.
Meanwhile, a public memo written by the chief of police in May 2015 omits the connection to NEMLEC. It states that the department has a usage policy in place for the MRAP and claims usage will be limited to natural disasters and times when police officers may encounter gunfire. However, that policy runs contrary to their actions. Instead of having the armored truck wait at the station ready to be deployed in an emergency, they have used the MRAP as a nuisance deterrent. It is fitted with surveillance equipment, named the “Armadillo” (possibly after the vehicle in the 1998 film Armageddon), and designated to be parked outside of trouble locations to intimidate people. The policy in place gives citizens the ability to call and request that police park the MRAP in front of a home in order to nudge noise polluters, speed demons, and loiterers into submission. According to records, the MRAP was used for multiple-day deployments five times this year between March 27 and Aug 14.
According to department guidelines, any of the following reasons can be given when requesting that the Haverhill police park a military truck in public for intimidation purposes (note that a deployment can simply spur from a high quantity of complaints, regardless of their merit):
Drug trafficking complaints
Chronic police crime reports
General quality of life complaints regarding gang activity
Excessive neighborhood calls for service
Code enforcement problems
The federal 1033 program through which police departments of all sizes arm their teams to the teeth has been widely criticized for lack of accounting and oversight. After police showed up in MRAPs and military garb in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, the program was restricted by the Obama administration. Currently, the Trump administration has removed restrictions once again, opening the door for military equipment to flood into the hands of law enforcement. One of the few restrictions that remains, however, requires law enforcement to register and explain why they are obtaining the surplus gear. In some cases, like with MRAPs, they must return them after they are done using them.
This is a new expansion in the militarized policing of America. Now, even when a crime hasn’t been committed (quantity of complaints), or when a low-level code (loitering or noise complaints) is violated, the police are claiming they can and will park a giant military vehicle in front of your house—not as punishment for something you did, but rather to preemptively scare you out of committing future acts.
All of which begs the question: If the MRAP is parked, unmanned, far away from the police station on an intimidation deployment, will it be available for use in a natural disaster or SWAT situation? If not, then HPD’s justification for having the 20-ton truck is impossible, and they should return the vehicle.