Amid concerns about police militarization arising from events in Ferguson, Mo., the Boise Police Department rolled out some of its SWAT and repurposed military gear for media gathered at City Hall West (off of Emerald Street) to discuss the need for armored vehicles and tactical equipment.
Standing before the Boise Police Department's mine resistant ambush protected vehicle (MRAP), Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson said that the heavily armored truck—a piece of repurposed military equipment procured for free through the Department of Defense's 1033 program—is a purely defensive piece of equipment that would not be used on demonstrations like they have been in Ferguson.
"You're not going to see it at crowds, managing crowds," Masterson said. "You're not going to see it at Treefort. It's not even appropriate for them to be at these kinds of events."
The MRAP (nicknamed ERV, short for Emergency Response Vehicle) features two-inch-thick shielding that protects passengers from most arms fire and explosions. It's still painted desert beige because repainting it could cost the city up to $20,000. ERV has been deployed twice since it was obtained by BPD in October 2013. The first incident, which took place Nov. 7, was the service of a high-risk warrant on a man suspected of building bombs. The second took place Aug. 18, when it was used as a protective cover following a report that a man had been pointing a gun at someone walking past his home.
Masterson said that the ERV is only deployed in situations where explosives or firearms are involved, and police, the public or property are at risk. Part of its refitting for police use has been the installation of emergency medical supplies, including a rack for a gurney and an emergency medical kit.
Despite ERV's use thus far in its service to BPD and the stated conditions under which it's used, it's still massive: The driver-side door alone weighs about 200 pounds, and Deputy Chief Scott Mulcahy said it could cause serious injury if it were to accidentally close on someone. And it's intimidating. At about 10 feet high, it's just less than twice the height of most people, and its driver has to use a collapsible staircase to enter it. Nevertheless, Mulcahy said that it's the BPD's policy to restrain its use (and show) of force.
"What's the least amount of force we would need in this event?" he asked. "The visual presence of this vehicle is a level of force. You see this rolling down your street and you're going to wonder what's up."
Though the use of ERV is contingent on a suspect having or being suspected of having guns or explosives, the BPD has not yet set in stone its policy for deploying the vehicle.
"We can't what-if everything," Mulcahy said.
Through the DoD's 1033 program, the BPD has received:
5 pairs binoculars
1 protective bomb suit
30 gas mask filters
2 sets of night-vision goggles
40 storage chests
15 chemical suits
5 flak jackets
12 AR-15 rifles converted to semi-automatic and used exclusively for training