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MRAPs Have Become a Sticking Point in Military Equipment Use Debate

AP Photo / Haraz N. Ghanbari

Lawmakers are debating a ban on some kinds of military equipment for law enforcement agencies across Virginia.

Sheriffs across Virginia are pushing back against an effort to ban law enforcement agencies from receiving mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles known as MRAPs from the Pentagon.

These are the kinds of vehicles used in Iraq, and John Jones with the Virginia Sheriffs Association says a Senate bill prohibits weaponized vehicles but allows armored vehicles.

Read More: Bill Blocking Police Use of Military Equipment Moves to House of Delegates

“An armored vehicle is different. It’s designed to protect people," says Jones. "That’s what we want to use, and that’s the kind of vehicle like a humvee. For example we’ll use them in high water as a high-water vehicle to do rescues.”

Delegate Dan Helmer is a combat vet who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he introduced language in the House specifically banning MRAPs, although he also included a way for sheriffs to seek an exemption in specific circumstances. He says using an MRAP in a flood is not a good idea. 

“These things were not built for the purpose of flood rescue," explains Helmer. "They are large, and in fact if you Google MRAP and drowning you will see that a number of soldiers and Marines have died as a result of them turning over in water. They have very heavy doors.”

Both the House and the Senate have bills outlining what kind of military equipment is available to law enforcement agencies in Virginia. The Senate version allows MRAPs and the House version does not, which means the differences will probably be resolved in a conference committee that will not be open to the public or the press.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.