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The MRAP vs. the ARV

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The MRAP vs. the ARV

Bill Crittenden
August 24, 2014

Commenting on the paramilitary-style response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri, last week, a clip was played on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver recording the reactions of two "dudes" that sounded a bit like Bill & Ted and were pretty impressed by Saginaw County's new armored vehicle until one of them realized what it meant and asked, "has this place gotten that fucking bad?"

No, not even Detroit has gotten "that fucking bad." Nor has Woodstock, Illinois, but McHenry County Sheriff's Department recently took delivery of a Mine-Resistant Armor Protected (MRAP) vehicle to compliment "MARV," its older armored vehicle.

Yeah, if I were driving across the country by Route 14 and happened to come across a County Sheriff vehicle more suited to the road between the Baghdad airport and the Green Zone than a quiet corn country two-lane I'd be a bit nervous, too, the same sort of nervous one gets when they enter a neighborhood with bars on all the windows.

Sure, keeping such a vehicle around may come in handy some day. And they're cheap to obtain. But seeing them out and about...hell, just knowing that the Keystone Cops at McHenry County feel the need to protect themselves from landmines in my hometown makes me nervous for just what they think they're dealing with when they encounter the people of Woodstock or Crystal Lake. Do they think we're citizens or insurgents?

Of course, John Oliver doesn't drop the ball commenting on this aspect of the story, either, his team even finding a video of the Doraville, Georgia police department training in their tracked armored personnel carrier, with a song titled "Die Motherfucker Die" as the background music. Oh, and it was publicly available on their website. Yep, that's what the Doraville P.D. thinks of "protect and serve" when it comes to the motherfu---, I mean, citizens of their town.

Oliver rounds out his discussion with a principle to the police of "dress for the job you have, not the job you want," and it certainly applies to the police vehicles as well as the uniforms.

Even the standard Ford police sedan has gotten menacing looking recently, with bumper guards and black paint ever more popular in my quiet little corner of Illinois.

Of course, they all "need" a highway cruiser capable of high speed for chases and loaded with multiple weapons because at some point they might need some or all of it. Of course, they might also feel that they'll some day "need" a Javelin missile and a satellite phone to call in an airstrike, but I suppose one Ford can only hold so much.

Where does the line get drawn? When does preparation for the worst-case scenario end up becoming a problem for the police in relating to the people who they're sworn to protect (and fund their paychecks)?

The British understand that how the police approach the citizens makes all the difference. Their police aren't armed and their average cruiser is a four-cylinder Vauxhall Astra diesel (at least it is according to my British cultural references; Jeremy Clarkson and the film Hot Fuzz), which is about the equivalent of a cheaply built four-door diesel Volkswagen Golf. And they're not overrun with criminals outrunning and outgunning the police.

They understand better than we do that cameras and communications can be more effective than horsepower and hand grenades.

In Britain, they have a police vehicle called an "Armed Response Vehicle." And even when the proverbial shit violently hits the proverbial fan, ARVs are still just brightly marked European sedans, often a BMW 3 Series.

This is Wikipedia's explanation of an ARV:

An armed response vehicle (ARV) is a type of police car operated by British law enforcement. ARVs are crewed by Authorised Firearms Officers to respond to emergency telephone calls believed to involve firearms or other high-risk situations. ARVs are specially adapted and modified to accommodate specialist equipment, along with the transportation of armed officers to a scene of an incident.

Armed response vehicles were introduced to the British Police to provide them with a firearms response capability, as the United Kingdom police do not routinely carry firearms on patrol, with the exception of a minority of armed officers. Outside of London, ARVs are controlled and organised by the Force Firearms Unit, and within the capital they are controlled by Specialist Firearms Command. ARVs are identifiable in London by a yellow dot sticker, visible from each angle, and an asterisk on the roof to enable helicopters to identify the vehicle as being an ARV. Diplomatic Protection Group vehicles, identifiable by their red paintwork, utilise the same markings to denote the carrying of firearms officers.

ARVs deployed for the first time in London, during 1991. Following their success, forces outside of the capital later formed them throughout the early to mid-1990s. The concept of an ARV was influenced by West Yorkshire Police's instant response cars, as used in 1976.

Early ARVs contained a secure safe between the seats containing a .38 Smith & Wesson Model 10 for each member, with two 9mm Heckler & Koch MP5 semi-automatic submachine guns secured in the boot. After ARVs became established and the practice was accepted for widespread use, the Model 10 revolvers were replaced by more recent self-loading Glock 17s, firing 9 mm rounds and the Heckler-Koch GC36C assault rifle.

Revolvers and pistols could be removed from the secure safe by ARV members if, in a member's opinion, an immediate threat to life was posed. Authorisation to remove carbines required authorisation from the control room once they had contacted an officer of Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) rank. If a high-ranking officer was not available, a Chief Inspector could give authorisation in an emergency. Following an increase in the size of the Firearms Unit, Commissioner Sir Paul Condon issued regulations, effective 23 May 1994, that gave ARV crews standing authority to wear their handguns overtly and to deploy their weapons. Several police forces followed suit. The Greater Manchester police became one of those whose AFVs that openly carried firearms beginning 6 September 1994.

Of course, there are a lot of other conditions at play here in the United States that aren't issues for the Brits, but they've more than adequately proven that the police don't need to drive armored vehicles to be safe and do their jobs.

And which kind of place would you want to live in? One where a friendly officer rolls through the neighborhood in a bright four-cylinder sedan or one where your law enforcement vehicles look like something out of a Hollywood film's idea of a dystopian military-ruled future?

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