Public Safety

Johnson County will keep military armored vehicle

Iowa City Council asked sheriff to get rid of 'war zone' equipment

Johnson County obtained this Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected, or MRAP, in June 2014. Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek on Friday t
Johnson County obtained this Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected, or MRAP, in June 2014. Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek on Friday told The Gazette the county would be keeping the military transport vehicle to use in high-risk situations, despite the Iowa City Council asking the county to get rid of it. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Johnson County’s armored transport vehicle is staying put.

Last month, the Iowa City Council agreed to send a letter to Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek, asking him to get rid of the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle — or MRAP — the county obtained for free through the 1033 Program in 2014.

The letter was in response to Black Lives Matter demands for local law enforcement to divest itself of military-grade equipment and cancel contracts with the federal government.

A letter was sent to Pulkrabek by Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague on June 17.

“A military-grade vehicle designed for war zones is not suitable for use by local law enforcement,” Teague wrote. “It undermines public confidence and trust in law enforcement and thereby interferes with the goal of keeping the community safe.”

Pulkrabek confirmed this week that he received Teague’s letter.

The sheriff told The Gazette he intends to keep the MRAP in Johnson County.

“I think I’m pretty clear on the record that I’m not going to be getting rid of the MRAP,” Pulkrabek said.

The MRAP is shared by area law enforcement agencies through a 28(e) intergovernmental agreement. Those agencies contribute to the vehicle’s annual costs. The Johnson County Emergency Management Agency manages the program used to obtain the equipment and provides its $800 annual liability insurance.

Pulkrabek said he did speak with the heads of the other law enforcement agencies after receiving the letter.

University of Iowa Department of Public Safety Director Scott Beckner and interim Iowa City Police Chief Bill Campbell did not take a stance, he said.

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Coralville Police Chief Shane Kron and North Liberty Police Chief Diane Venenga supported keeping the MRAP, Pulkrabek said.

Campbell and Beckner could not be reached for comment Friday. Kron and Venenga confirmed they are in favor of keeping the MRAP.

“I think having the MRAP available in the county is a great resource if ever needed,” Venenga said.

Pulkrabek told The Gazette last month he preferred to keep the MRAP and continue using it for its intended purpose: rescue and recovery operations during high-risk situations. He has pointed out that the MRAP has no offensive capabilities.

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

Iowa City staff have set a target date of Aug. 27 to deliver a report to the city council on military-grade equipment and federal contracts supporting the police department.

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

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