Police Departments Are Grabbing Up Free Military Hardware 

Here's how (and why) they're using it

Tabielle Holsinger was watching the news on television the morning of Nov. 7, 2013. She said it was part of her morning routine--something she did just before taking a shower. Her fiance, Joshua Finch, had left the house to drop off their two children at YMCA daycare programs. That's when she heard the sirens.

"I was watching Democracy Now in my house, and Josh took the kids to school. He did that every day. It was approximately 9:20 [a.m.]. All of a sudden, I'm hearing honks. A tank was coming down the street with fire engines and police cars. A huge parade of about 10 vehicles. It just drives up here, right in front," said Holsinger, pointing to the gravel driveway facing her kitchen.

The "tank"--actually a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle (MRAP)--parked directly in front of Holsinger's kitchen window, cracking a concrete slab that was part of a walkway leading to her front door. Boise Police officers entered her home and a tool shed on her property. They were there to serve a high-risk arrest warrant for Finch, who was under suspicion of kidnapping--the claims turned out to be unfounded--but also after receiving reports that he had been building bombs.

In an unfinished section of the house's basement, they found about 150 pounds of explosives that Finch had built in the tool shed and hidden from his family. But Finch wasn't home at the time of the arrest, and when the MRAP rolled into her driveway, Holsinger thought the hulking vehicle, cruisers and fire trucks were for her.

"I felt like they were coming after me. They had to make a big scene to me. I was under arrest and they were going to shoot me with the MRAP," she said, though BPD's MRAP is not armed.

Photos of the incident taken by BPD and posted online show the MRAP stationed between the street and Finch's home. Another photo shows the vehicle positioned in an alley between the shed where Finch had been preparing explosives and a neighbor's nearby house. The MRAP had startled Holsinger, but the photos of the scene show that the vehicle was acting as a blast barrier between Finch's home and adjacent property--a use that is consistent with deployment guidelines set by the police department. Specifically, policy dictates the MRAP can only be used in a defensive way and in response to an incident involving firearms or explosives. It is not to be deployed for crowd control, but it has been used in neighborhoods. BPD's stated policy is that the vehicle's purpose is to defend the "Three P's"--people, property and police--and never to harm them.

But Idaho is a patchwork of police agencies with varying quantities of military materiel, repurposed under a Department of Defense program known as 1033, and perhaps more significant are the differing philosophies and protocols regarding its use. It is part of a broader conversation about the balance between protecting police officers and the communities they serve.

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