Local police unlikely to be affected by military surplus bans

EVERETT — The military-style arming of local law enforcement makes for a splashy headline.

In recent protests across the country, attention has focused on the use of military hardware by small departments.

The reality is that for decades police in Snohomish County and across the region have been using military hand-me-downs with little or no fanfare.

For example, the Snohomish County sheriff’s rescue helicopter, a high-profile Huey named SnoHawk 10, was obtained as surplus in the 1990s, as was the sheriff’s smaller helicopter.

Both the Lynnwood and Oak Harbor police departments own the armored personnel carriers known as MRAPs or Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, public records show. Altogether, police in Snohomish and Island counties have received more than $1.6 million worth of surplus equipment — much of it at a deep discount.

Both the local MRAPs, roll on regular tires, not tank-style tracks.

Last week, President Barack Obama’s administration announced plans for new bans on certain kinds of military surplus being used by civilian police. The ban extends to grenade launchers, bayonets and MRAPs on tracks, according to a story in The Washington Post.

Local authorities are paying attention, said Cmdr. Chuck Steichen with the Lynnwood Police Department. By his read, Lynnwood’s rig won’t be affected by the new rules.

Police quickly figured out that MRAPs on tracks, instead of wheels, didn’t fare well on urban streets, he said.

The Lynnwood MRAP was valued at $658,000 in fall 2013, records show. It was obtained by the department and is maintained in Lynnwood, but isn’t limited to the city of 36,000, Steichen said.

It responds to the entire area served by the regional North Sound Metro SWAT Team. That includes roughly 300,000 people living in Lynnwood, Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace, Monroe, Bothell and Lake Forest Park.

The MRAP is deployed on operations involving the Special Weapons and Tactics team, Steichen said.

Oak Harbor’s rig was valued at $733,000 when it was shipped last May. It also has standard tires, designed for use on roads, Police Chief Ed Green said.

“It is our armored vehicle and is operational but is only used in high-risk situations, not for routine patrol,” he said. His department also received two rifles, a gun rack and a treadmill.

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office owns a Bearcat that’s more than 8 feet tall, including the turret, and more than 17 feet long.

The Bearcat was purchased using a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, officials said.

For Snohomish and Island counties, the most common surplus items were 5.56mm rifles — 46 in all, worth $24,200.

Those were followed by GPS units, 7.62mm rifles and combat helmets. For example, Monroe’s police force received three of the helmets in 2009, each worth $274.

Night-vision goggles went to both county sheriff offices.

Other local police agencies that received surplus items include Marysville, Mountlake Terrace and Tulalip. Because of the MRAP, Lynnwood received the most in Snohomish County in terms of dollar amount. The sheriff’s office here received the highest number of items at 22.

The database largely focuses on the years 2006 through 2014.

Reporter Scott North contributed to this story.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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