Locals weigh in on use of armored vehicles


WINNEBAGO COUNTY – The killing of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Mo. by police officers sparked four nights of violent protests. The last two days and nights were much more peaceful.

Police opponents are criticizing Ferguson Police for utilizing their armored vehicles like these during the demonstrations.

But others say, these vehicles, which some northeast Wisconsin departments now use, are meant to protect officers.
As protests unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri this week, police responded with armored vehicles, Kevlar vests and gas masks.

Some groups like the American Civil Liberties Union say it’s too harsh a response.

“There were protesters and there were protesters. And some had Molotov cocktails and some were looting stores. But disproportionately it was a peaceful demonstration,” said Martin Gruberg, with the ACLU Fox Valley Chapter.

Larry Kamholz is a former SWAT team officer. He’s now a security consultant. He says police have to prepare for the worst.

“You don’t know what is going to happen. So I give some credit to the police department down there because they didn’t really know what to expect,” said Kamholz.

Many local law enforcement agencies, like the Winnebago County Sheriff’s department, say they received grants for armored vehicles through Homeland Security after September 11,, 2001.

Lt. Darin Rice says his SWAT team uses this bearcat vehicle only a handful of times each year.

“Placing an armored vehicle between you and a suspect’s location just provides safety between you and everybody involved,” said Rice. “We’ve never used it in any kind of crowd control or riot situation”

This bearcat vehicle was designed specifically for civilian police use. However some communities in northeast Wisconsin are receiving former military vehicles on surplus.

Police Departments in Appleton and Neenah say they are receiving vehicles like this, called MRAP.

The trucks are de-militarized versions of armored vehicles previously used in battle that the military no longer needs.Both departments declined to go on camera today.

Gruberg says these vehicles do not belong on U.S. streets.

“Unlike some countries you know like Egypt today where you would suppress any crowd gathering, in our country it is regarded as appropriate. It’s a way of expressing your feelings.

Officers say it’s often a delicate balance of keeping the peace and staying safe.

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