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Armored vehicle to remain in Iowa City police ‘toolbox’ for now
Iowa City Council is interested in purchasing a civilian alternative to the mine resistant ambush vehicle
A mine resistant ambush vehicle, shared by Johnson County law enforcement agencies, will remain in the Iowa City Police Department’s “toolbox” for now as the Iowa City Council considers alternatives to the armored transport vehicle.
The vehicle, known as an MRAP, was acquired at no cost by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office in 2014 as part of the 1033 program, which gives obsolete or unneeded excess military equipment to local law enforcement agencies.
Iowa City Police Chief Dustin Liston wrote in a memo to the City Council that the MRAP has been deployed by the Iowa City Police Department seven times since it was acquired, four of those times in the city’s south side, which has a higher proportion of residents of color.
Residents have decried the use of the vehicle, saying its use is unnecessary and traumatizing for residents who see it deployed in their neighborhood.
The vehicle was used to serve a search warrant in the city’s south district in May. In his memo to the council, Liston argued that the MRAP is necessary to safely execute certain high-risk situations involving active shooters or high-risk arrest and search warrants.
He wrote that alternatives to the county’s current MRAP exist that would look more familiar to civilians.
Liston told the council the estimated price of one of these vehicles is $250,000.
In 2020, the Iowa City Council sent a letter to the Johnson County Sheriff’s office, asking that the armored vehicle’s use be discontinued.
Then-Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek sharply pushed back, saying the MRAP is a necessary tool.
Liston said though some kind of armored vehicle is necessary for police to safely carry out their work in high-risk situations, he recognizes the impact of seeing the vehicle roll down the street.
“The decision to use the MRAP is not made lightly,” he said.
Council member Laura Bergus said it was disappointing the MRAP was used as recently as May after the council sent a letter requesting it not be used.
“I’m very grateful to hear today that there is acknowledgment that the MRAP rolling down the street -- even though it's not mounted with weapons -- is intimidating, is scary, is not positive for the community. It does harm when it rolls through a neighborhood,” she said.
Eric Harris, vice president of the South District Neighborhood Association and a member of the city’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, told the council the recent use of the armored vehicle was traumatizing for his children.
“I almost took offense to some of the comments that this is supposed to make people feel safe — because it did not make my family feel safe,” he said.
The Johnson County Board of Supervisors has also directed Johnson County Sheriff Brad Kunkel to consider an alternative option to the MRAP.
The council asked city staff to communicate with the county government on their plans for exploring an alternative option, and will revisit the topic and its next work session on Aug. 17.
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