Walton County, Fla. (pop. 55,000) just got its first MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle), and a lot of residents of the slow-paced, Deep-South coastal community aren’t happy about it.
MRAPs are mine-resistant armored vehicles designed to deflect the force of IED detonations in combat zones. They were engineered for warfare, and the ones streaming into municipal police departments today had their first life in American military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even in that role, their use has been criticized because the vehicles’ hyper-military appearance can intimidate locals and erode rapport between American forces and the people they’re deployed to liberate and protect.
Grassroots journalism website The Anti-Media illustrates just how far Walton County is, in culture, from a combat zone:
Walton County is a part of Florida that is so crime free you can leave your doors unlocked. When Hollywood location scouts were looking for a community so perfect that it appeared to be fake, they came to Walton County. The Truman Show, staring Jim Carey, was filmed on location in a small Walton County community.
As with other local law enforcement agencies nationwide who’ve tapped into the Federal government’s surplus military equipment program, the Walton County Sheriff’s Department obtained the warfighting beast for the cost of transporting it back to Defuniak Springs – Walton’s county seat and largest city at 5,000 people.
According to the Northwest Florida Daily News, it’s got some people freaked out. Quoting one Facebook user upset by the message the acquisition sends to the community, the News observed:
One Destin resident commented on the Walton County Sheriff’s Facebook page that the county didn’t need an MRAP.
“This doesn’t make the officers safer. All studies show that the more militarized a department becomes, the more often officers get hurt,” the commenter said. “This is Walton County, Florida, not Iraq, not Afghanistan.”
Others agreed, calling the vehicle overkill, and in one case, “an offensive intimidation method used to controll [sic] and strike fear.”
But sheriff Mike Adkinson argues there’s no logic in turning down free equipment that, he insists, does have the potential to ensure officers’ safety – however remote the possibility that an adequately dire situation will arise to justify its use.
“I know that if somebody was in harm’s way, I wouldn’t let public opinion decide the safety of my deputy,” he told the paper. “Safety is my number one priority.”
Notice he didn’t say “public safety.”