Napoleon Dynamite was the first resident of Preston, Idaho, to realize the tiny town of just more than 5,000 had a crime problem.
“You know, there's like a butt-load of gangs at this school,” he told his friend Pedro in the 2004 smash hit film “Napoleon Dynamite.”
“This one gang kept wanting me to join,” he said, “because I'm pretty good with a bo-staff,” a long staff used as a weapon in Okinawa and feudal Japan.
Now, nine years later, the movie world of “Napoleon” has come face-to-face with the Preston City Police Department.
That is, Preston Police Chief Ken Geddes a few days ago announced his department’s acquisition of a mine-resistant armor protected vehicle, or an MRAP for short.
“The vehicle comes at no cost to Preston City,” Geddes wrote in an Idaho State Journal column “It is a 2007 model with very low mileage.”
Indeed, the military, which no longer uses the mammoth vehicles following the troop drawdowns in the Middle East after years and years of war, has been handing them out to police agencies across the country. At least four Idaho departments, Boise, Preston, Post Falls and Nampa, received the surplus equipment.
While the military didn’t ask the departments to pay for the MRAPs, which clock in at nearly $500,000 per unit, each agency was required to send officers to a central location for driver training. The agencies were also required to pay the cost of fuel to transport the MRAPs to the various departments.
The MRAPs, checking in at more than 10-feet tall and in excess of 14 tons, were specially designed to handle ambushes by insurgents and withstand landmine explosions. Several federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, use MRAPs in certain operations, including disaster response and bomb situations.
But, the acquisition might lead one to wonder: Why in the world does the Preston Police Department and the other Idaho agencies need such a heavily fortified piece of equipment?
Answer: Gun violence.
Or, at least that how Geddes sees it. He told IdahoReporter.com that he plans to use his department’s MRAP to quell any gun violence in his town. He also said he could use it to evacuate city residents if gun-related situations grow out of control.
Because Preston is something of a little Chicago?
“I hope it is not going to be used,” Geddes said. “Aren’t our people as important as anybody else? Why wouldn’t we be interested in using it?”
When asked, Geddes couldn’t tell IdahoReporter.com how often his officers respond to high-level gun incidents, but he estimated that the rate is equal to anywhere else in the country.
Except it’s not. According to the FBI’s crime statistics, guns are less likely to be used in crimes in Idaho than the rest of the nation.
Boise has a different approach for its MRAP. Williams Bones, a deputy chief, told IdahoReporter.com that his department will utilize the bulky vehicle for hostage, bomb and hazmat situations.
“It’s not going to see a lot of use,” he said.
The vehicle’s likely highest purpose, he said, might be to simply sustain a bomb blast. In the past, the Boise Police Department placed fire engines in between bombs and buildings to shield the structures from a blast. With the MRAP around, Boise won’t have to risk destroying fire engines worth $1.2 million each.
Yet, some critics of the MRAP rollout worry that this is simply another step toward militarized police forces.
“Americans have long maintained that a man’s home is his castle and that he has the right to defend it from unlawful intruders. Unfortunately, that right may be disappearing,” wrote Radley Balko, a Huffington Post contributor and author of “Rise of the Warrior Cop.”
“Over the last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law enforcement, along with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of paramilitary police units for routine police work,” Balko wrote.
Still, Bones insists that the Boise Police Department has no interest in becoming a paramilitary force. “We are a civilian police force and we intend to stay that way,” he pledged.