As police departments all across the country beef up their forces with military equipment, Anchorage police say they have chosen to turn down the offer of free armored vehicles.
Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew said the department submitted the paperwork to begin the process to acquire two vehicles, but later decided against it.
Earlier this year, Anchorage police asked for two mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles as part of the U.S. military’s 1033 program, in which surplus military gear is given to local police.
Several months later, they decided not to accept the MRAPs.
“The feeling of many of the people who are now in decision-making positions were, well, it might not actually be worth all the expense and hassle of the maintenance,” Mew said. “We knew we were going to have to paint them. They were camouflage or something like that, and we were going to have to paint them white or something to make it more appropriate for civilian use. The problem with the MRAPs is you get them and you maybe use them once or twice a year but you have to still maintain them all the time to keep them running. So you have to balance the cost and benefit there.”
In January, police said the MRAPs would have helped with high-pressure standoffs, in which officers only had one armored vehicle.
"We've put some officers on the front of the house with that armored car for protection but the guys in the back of the house don't have anything besides police cars to hunker down behind, so having one of these in that type of instance would give us the option to have one of these in the back of the house also to protect the officers,” APD SWAT Sgt. Shaun Henry told Channel 2 News in January.
The Aug. 9 police killing of an unarmed Missouri teenager has sparked nationwide protests and discussions of the military equipment police use.
“I don't think that what you see with regard to Ferguson, I would like to believe, I do believe, you're not going to see something like that in Anchorage,” Mew said, adding that police militarization discussions are not new.
Police chiefs nationwide have been discussing the issue for more than three years, Mew said.
Anchorage police say the closest the city has come to a violent riot was more than 10 years ago at the 2003 Fur Ball teen dance, when someone fired a gun in the Egan Center and officers used pepper spray to control the crowd.
The tactics used during violent riots are modeled after those used by the Los Angeles Police Department, said Sgt. Jack Carson, who heads up APD’s SWAT unit.
Carson said APD is not a militarized police force.
“The weapons system we have any citizen can buy,” he said. “We do things a lot different. We're not into the no-knock warrants and rushing into places.”
Mew said the department has not ruled out getting another armored vehicle in the future, but will do so with careful thought.
“We’re very cognizant of the whole image thing, the whole militarization of the police controversy,” he said.