Outraged by “Militarized Police?” Think of Stockton

by GREGORY D. LEE July 22, 2014

The violent bank robbery on July 16, 2014, in Stockton, California illustrates why police departments are seeking surplus military vehicles to help protect themselves and the public.

Three bank robbers, later identified as members of the notorious Norteno Mexican street gang, robbed a Bank of the West branch in Stockton. The men snatched three hostages and drove off in a stolen SUV. They were armed with handguns and a semi-automatic, Soviet designed, AK-47 rifle, which is banned under California law, along with its "high capacity" magazine. Each robber had numerous rifle and handgun magazines strapped to their bodies in anticipation of a violent fire-fight with police.

Stockton Police, California Highway Patrol, and surrounding police agencies pursued the robbers for an hour. The gang member driving the stolen SUV rounded street corners, suddenly stop, and the three of them waited for the police to emerge so they could ambush them. The men also used one of the female hostages as a human shield before dumping the two others out of their speeding vehicle. The SUV was finally disabled by police gunfire. The Stockton Police then deployed its military surplus, fully armored, Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle to use as a bulletproof shield and provide cover and concealment for police officers by slowly approaching the vehicle while exchanging gunfire with the robbers.  When the shooting finally stopped and the dust settled, two robbers were killed and Jaime Ramos, 19, was taken into custody. Unfortunately, the last remaining hostage was killed. The use of the MRAP was the deciding factor in ending the deadly shooting rampage because a normal police car could not have stopped pistol and rifle fire. Fourteen police cars sustained bullet holes during the event.

Yet, before this incident, the ACLU, politicians, and residents of many cities around the country had demanded to know why police departments need such vehicles. Last December, residents of Salinas, California were "outraged," according to news reports, when the police department acquired a free military surplus MRAP and adapted it for police use. "What's next, drones, attack robots, apache helicopters, mini guns on police cars?" a commenter wrote on the Salinas Police Department Facebook page that showed a picture of its newly acquired MRAP. "Has it been converted to shoot teddy bears to the kids as it drives down the road?" a sarcastic writer wrote. Someone else asked, "Why doesn't anyone protest the militarization of police departments across the country? The police are armed for war."

What happened in Stockton was a war-like combat situation. Salinas, like Stockton and other Northern California cities, has numerous Norteno gang members within its city limits. An equal or even more violent situation could occur there some day. It's best to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

What would have happened if the Stockton Police didn't have their MRAP to stop these bank robbers, and several police officers and innocent bystanders were killed along with more hostages? Would that satisfy the ACLU and other critics? If that had happened, the ACLU would be the first to demand to know why the police department didn't take advantage of a free military MRAP when it was offered.

I don't understand the public paranoia when police departments change tactics that are designed to better protect the public it serves. The Salinas MRAP was essentially cost-free. The only expense was to paint it black and install emergency lights, siren, and radio equipment. These vehicles are only used under unusual circumstances, not for routine patrol. They safely transport SWAT teams and can be used to rescue hostages, knock down barriers, and provide bulletproof protection for officers involved in shootings situations, such as was seen in Stockton. So why would the public object?

In a post 911 world, prison gates opening to release "non-violent" offenders because of overcrowding, the rise in MS-13 gang members entering the country from Central America, and violent crime increasing in general, the police need the tools to better protect the public and themselves from these criminals.

These surplus MRAPs serve that purpose, as evidenced by the Stockton bank robbery.

Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Gregory D. Lee is a retired Supervisory Special Agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the author of three criminal justice textbooks. While on DEA diplomatic assignment in Pakistan, he was involved in the investigation of several notable terrorism events and arrests. He recently retired after more than 39 years of active and reserve service from the U.S. Army Reserve as a Chief Warrant Officer Five Special Agent for the Criminal Investigation Division Command, better known as CID. In 2011 he completed a combat tour of duty in Afghanistan while on special assignment to the Special Operations Command Europe. Visit his website athttp://www.gregorydlee.com/ and contact him at info@gregorydlee.com.


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