BOISE -- The scenes of armored vehicles in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting of an unarmed black teen have many wondering about military-style equipment in the hands of local law enforcement.
The federal government distributes hundreds of millions of dollars of surplus military equipment to local police agencies all across America. More than $449 million worth of property was transferred to local agencies last year alone.
One piece of such equipment, a MRAP which stands for mine resistant - ambush protected vehicle, was used this Monday by Caldwell Police to look for a documented gang member wanted for aggravated battery and assault on a police officer. The MRAPs are designed to withstand IED attacks. Caldwell, Boise and Nampa police departments have one.
"The idea behind calling police to those violent scenes is to try and put a stop to it as fast as possible and so we need those guys to have those tools," said Brad Daniels, Deputy Chief of Nampa Police. "We don't take them out on every call. We don't deploy them unless they're absolutely necessary."
Daniels says his department first received old practice, SWAT uniforms from the US military years ago. Last year it received a MRAP. The armored vehicle had been used in Iraq, but Daniels says the Department of Defense gave it to Nampa after the drawdown and at no cost.
"You'd be looking at somewhere around $300,000 in tax money to buy one," said Daniels. "And when this option came up, we to date have spent less than $2,000 on it."
A spokesperson for Boise Police says their department last used its MRAP in November when a kidnapping investigating led officers to a home with more than 100 pounds of explosive material inside.
Both Boise and Nampa say the armored vehicles are only deployed for specific situations and used only by trained personnel.
"Unless you've been shot at, you don't realize the gravity of what that means," said Daniels. "Having that vehicle available to go in and pull civilians out of a bad situation or rescue an officer who's been injured or even just to have it as protection for officers to stand behind is a pretty significant thing."
Daniels says they do not own their MRAP. It is assigned to them by the U.S. military. It will eventually go back to the federal government for disposal.