Public Safety

County officials resistant to unload armored transport, despite calls from Iowa City Council

Johnson County obtained this Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected, or MRAP, in June 2014. (Gazette photo)
Johnson County obtained this Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected, or MRAP, in June 2014. (Gazette photo)

IOWA CITY — While the Iowa City Council plans to call on Johnson County to get rid of an armored transport vehicle in response to demands from Black Lives Matter protesters, the man who obtained that vehicle said he’d prefer to keep it on hand.

“I would stand behind using it for what it was intended for,” said Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek. “It’s a rescue-recovery type of vehicle to use in highly dangerous situations.”

Pulkrabek obtained the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle — or MRAP — for free in 2014 through the 1033 Program, which gives civilian law enforcement access to excess military equipment. The MRAP is shared by area law enforcement agencies through an existing 28e agreement and those agencies contribute to the vehicle’s annual costs. Johnson County Emergency Management also assists in managing the program used to obtain the equipment and provides $800 in liability insurance annually through their budget, according to Emergency Management Director Dave Wilson.

Area law enforcement agencies shared in the expenses related to shipping the MRAP to Johnson County and having it painted.

The MRAP has no offensive capabilities nor can it deploy any kind of gas.

“It’s strictly a transport vehicle that can be used to go in and out of high risk situations safely,” Pulkrabek said.

Nonetheless, when the Iowa City Council met on Tuesday to discuss the demands of the Iowa Freedom Riders — the group representing Iowa City’s Black Lives Matter movement protesters — one of the items they identified to quickly act upon was sending a letter to the county urging them to get rid of the MRAP. Other action items would likely take longer to implement and may be discussed by an independent commission, which was proposed by Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague.

While his department would not have a say in whether to keep the MRAP, Wilson said it has been a “defensive, lifesaving tool” for the county.

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“If someone asked me, my vote would be to keep it,” he said in an email to The Gazette.

Wilson and Pulkrabek said the MRAP was deployed to Prairie du Chien Road north of Iowa City when a citizen was firing a weapon from their residence. While the MRAP was there to get a neighbor safely out of the area, Pulkrabek said the shooter gave up immediately when the MRAP arrived.

Earlier this year, Jeremy Krapp, 31, of Davenport, pulled a handgun on Iowa County deputies before fleeing on foot. He shout out the window of a patrol vehicle occupied by law enforcement and continued shooting after taking refuge in a culvert. Krapp gave up when authorities approached in the MRAP, Pulkrabek said.

Whatever the situation is, “it has a history of bringing them to a quick halt,” Pulkrabek said.

Iowa City Police Sgt. Doug Hart said he isn’t sure how many times the MRAP has been used. He said the department’s special response team has used it during incidents when armed suspects were taken into custody.

“It has been used as a source of cover from potential gunfire when there is information that suggests the occupants of a residence/building are likely armed and have a history of violent acts/weapons offenses,” Hart said in an email to The Gazette.

During a flood event, the MRAP was also used to help get a woman out of her home when it was surrounded by water, Pulkrabek said.

Hart said because the MRAP was obtained by the sheriff’s office, the police department would only offer their advice on whether or not to keep it. Hart’s email did not indicate whether the department believes the MRAP should stay or go.

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Wilson said he doesn’t think elected officials should allow protesters to determine which equipment law enforcement can and cannot keep.

“Are we going to have cops turn in handcuffs, guns and pepper spray next?,” he said.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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