RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Sheriff’s Association wrote to Gov. Ralph Northam asking him to change two bills that would restrict law enforcement agencies’ acquisition of certain military surplus equipment. The particular issue they have with HB 5049 and SB 5030 is restrictions on the use of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.
The senate bill states that Virginia State Police and local law-enforcement agencies will be prohibited from acquiring armored multi-wheeled vehicles that are mine-resistant, ambush-protected and configured for combat from a surplus program operated by the federal government.
Sheriff’s say they use these vehicles for incidents including high water rescue and during shooting incidents. They want the bill to be amended to allow continued use of these vehicles as long as they are not weaponized.
The provision to ban MRAPs–vehicles built to withstand explosives in combat–prompted considerable debate among lawmakers before being passed earlier this month.
Democrats argued that MRAPs send the wrong message and aren’t appropriate for civilian use. Local law enforcement departments that have these vehicles said using them is rare but at times necessary.
Wise County Sheriff Grant Kilgore’s office has had a MRAP since 2014. He said the vehicle is not ideal for maneuver winding rural roads.
“We haven’t used it a ton anyway but as far as a tactical consideration it’s something you want in the equation,” Kilgore said.
He said these supplies are often given to sheriff’s offices from the federal government at little to no cost, helping to supplement departments with strained budgets.
In Washington County, Sheriff Blake Andis says they use the vehicles for high water rescues. “The vehicle is rated for 36 inches of water, holds lots of people, equipment, and works great in our area,” Andis said.
Another small Virginia County with an MRAP is Westmoreland. “We have used it during high risk search warrants, barricaded subject with weapons, search/rescue operations to include inclement weather situations (flooding, tornados, etc.). We also have and continue to conduct several training exercises/scenarios,” said Westmoreland County Sherrif, C.O. Balderson. “Additionally, the MRAP has been made available, requested and used regionally.”
In special circumstances, the bill allows departments to apply for a waiver to continue using the equipment or to acquire new supplies.
The General Assembly’s special session has concluded. If Gov. Northam were to recommend an amendment to either bill the house and senate would both need to agree to the entire recommendation before the bill could become law. Amendments can be agreed to by a majority vote of the members present.
The bill’s include a number of other measures including making it a felony for officers to have carnal knowledge of someone in custody, requirements for officers to announce their presence while executing a search warrant and the adoption of statewide professional standards of conduct for all law-enforcement and jail officers.
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