Two armored vehicles two too many

Excuse me. I would like to file a report to the county for fraud, waste and abuse. The county is purchasing a BearCat armored vehicle for the sheriff’s department, in addition to another that will be used in the region by the Army Corp of Engineers out of Huntington, W.Va., and other law enforcement. The local sheriff wants to create an elite militarized police squad capable of using their new toys in hostage situations and other emergency scenarios. That’s all well and good until you actually understand what a BearCat is. A BearCat, made by Lenco, is a specialized vehicle system that is built to military specifications and made for extreme conditions and are often outfitted for civil disturbance control. These are new made-for-law-enforcement military-style vehicles capable of withstanding RPG attacks, small mines, and heavy machine gun fire, similar to the MRAP vehicles that our armed forces use overseas. Despite the concerns with the old vehicle that the sheriff’s department already has (and seldom uses?), I wonder when the last time we saw a “terrorist” barricading himself in downtown Marietta with a rocket launcher, a 50 caliber heavy machine gun and planted mines under the brick streets? This timing is all very convenient as well when about 60 percent of all police and sheriff departments in the United States have already or are in the process of acquiring such vehicles, including surplus military M16 automatic rifles with grenade launchers, military specification body armor, and other various aspects of riot control gear. Yet if a citizen wanted any of this, he’d have to spend hundreds of thousands of his own dollars with no subsidies and then get his house blown apart simply because government would find his actions suspicious. You say, “that’s a ludicrous idea, why would anyone need that.” Well, I would counter with the exact same question back: Why does our sheriff and county need such extreme armament? How is it fair and even constitutional for my elected government officials to outgun the citizenry, no matter if it’s in the name of “security” or “used only during crisis.” Where is the accountability? What are they preparing for? Can I take it out on the weekends?

Last year we saw the county get rid of their helicopter program. Sure, sure, that’s okay. But I saw something more disturbing. The fact that despite the physical object of a helicopter being owned by Washington County, the sheriff explicitly stated that the use of helicopters and other techniques would not be abandoned. Only that cross-county and state lines would Washington County, Ohio, and Wood County, West Virginia, merge their efforts to “combat the drug war” and to use combined resources for any other purpose that they would deem necessary. So today, we get wind of the county’s plan to purchase the sheriff his very own military grade armored street tank. What’s next, a surveillance drone? Okay, I digress, but the point here is that we have seen a paradigm shift locally that has been happening macroscopically all over the United States. That police and sheriffs are rapidly becoming paramilitary forces which employ various tools and tactics, for numerous reasons, some legitimate and many simply unconstitutional. They are employing operational webs, creating small armies which are capable of counter-insurgency meant for the battlefield that rivals the military overseas. The best thing about it: it’s all right here at home. I’m getting more warm and fuzzy by the minute.

The scary thing about this is that on such a local level, our sheriff, who we the people are supposed to rely on as a last defense against abuse by the federal government, has opened their house and welcomed the wolves of government in; accepting large amounts of funding and subsidies for such programs that are destined to fail as the “drug war,” and of course the military-grade armament of county governments against their citizens. If you’re looking for real homeland or hometown security, the local government, namely the sheriff, needs to work with his community asking able bodied men to help serve the public and make it a safer place. Instead, what we have seen all over the USA and especially locally is a discord between the sheriff and the people he’s supposed to serve. No more is the only constitutionally appointed law enforcer in the land the people’s friend, but now they have set themselves up above the common man, who when it comes down to principle, now wields more power at the barrel of a gun than those he is supposedly appointed to protect. In other words, without taking too much time or space, local governments are under the auspices of gullibility and federal control, when funds and grants are dangled before their eyes, they can’t get enough. They are falling under the spell to create a police state where local governments and sheriffs will be obligated to follow any order that the national government passes down. What I see is not freedom at work, but fear.

I hate to admit it, but I do not feel like my life or my liberties are being protected when such actions are taken by the local government and our sheriff; nor do I feel that any new equipment like a machine gun or a BearCat or any amount of surveillance by cameras, helicopters or drones or even taking an offensive against drug abuse and proliferation will make my local community safer. Yet, if I knew that my government would work for me and the sheriff and his deputies were my friends and stood for regarding constitutional law as the only law and did not accept the federal handouts, then I might feel safer. Unfortunately, that is not the community I live in today, and I am truly afraid that these mistakes we make now, will only come around to hurt trust and cause even greater discord between “the public” and “the public servants.” It also won’t help when people’s doors start getting knocked down at 3 a.m. Then again, I just hope I’m wrong.

On one last note, I’d like to ask you: How does this really protect us, and do you feel safer with allowing so much power to be held by one man?

Stop and think.

Sam Ludtman lives in Reno.