Just days after President Barack Obama announced restrictions limiting police access to surplus war gear, an Idaho Democrat slammed a war truck's presence at a Caldwell school.
Democrat Holli Woodings, a former legislator and candidate for higher office, said on Facebook Wednesday local police agencies shouldn’t own or operate war trucks, machines fresh off the streets of Iraq or Afghanistan.
“Military vehicles belong with the military,” Woodings said. “Police are here to serve our community.”
A picture Idaho Second Amendment Alliance President Greg Pruett, a Middleton resident, posted to Facebook sparked Woodings’ ire and fierce reactions on both sides of the issue.
Pruett, who pushed permitless carry legislation in the Idaho Capitol during the 2015 session, told IdahoReporter.com he believes the demonstration inappropriate.
“Military equipment does not belong in the hands of our police forces,” Pruett wrote. “The trust gap between officers and civilians is growing ever so large and this equipment does nothing to help close the gap. MRAP's belong in war, not in our streets.”
The war truck, officially a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected behemoth specially crafted for America’s Middle Eastern wars, sat outside Caldwell’s Heritage Community Charter School for demonstrations Wednesday. School leadership did not return an IdahoReporter.com phone call, but a secretary confirmed the truck was used as a teaching tool and not for emergency response.
A handful of Idaho police agencies own MRAPs gifted from the U.S. military’s surplus gear program. Boise, Caldwell and Nampa own the trucks, as does Preston, a tiny Idaho town just north of the state’s border with Utah.
Woodings and Pruett’s comments came just days after Obama, reacting to nationwide concern over police tactics and brutality, announced the restrictions on the military gear.
"We've seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there's an occupying force as opposed to a force that's part of the community that's protecting them and serving them," Obama said in New Jersey on Monday. "It can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message."
Obama’s restrictions ban federal agencies from handing out some heavier and more lethal equipment to local jurisdictions. The new rules also require city and county police forces to obtain council or mayor permission before seeking other goods, including manned aircraft, drones, specialized firearms, explosives, battering rams and riot batons, helmets and shields.
In a separate social media post, Boise City Councilor TJ Thomson lauded Obama’s restrictions. Here’s Thomson’s take:
I like the idea of placing these equipment decisions in the hands of local public officials (as it appears the President has done) where it is under public scrutiny, comment, and explanation is required for intended use. The type of equipment and such intended use (i.e., SWAT teams, etc.) could be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The costs of the equipment, as I recall, is pretty minimal if not zero (to the cities), as it is equipment being passed down from the feds. But agreed that this equipment was intended for military and not appropriate for day-to-day use of our local law enforcement personnel.
One national police militarization watchdog praised Obama’s move as a step in the right direction.
“Free societies tend to draw a clear line between cops and soldiers,” wrote Radley Balko, author of Rise of the Warrior Cop. “Blurring that line indicates a failure to appreciate its importance. But this initiative is moving toward re-establishing that line, not moving it or further blurring it.”
Balko, ever critical of any attempts to militarize local police, said the president struck the right agreement. “Conditioning the acceptance of this gear on increased transparency, accountability and a move toward community policing seems like a good compromise. “We’ll either get less use of this military-issued equipment, or we’ll get more and better information about how it’s used.”
Still, some Idahoans feel discomfort a truck of war, now used to protect SWAT team members during raids, appeared at a grade school Wednesday.
“Whoa,” said Woodings. “Not OK.”
Wayne Cass, a retired police officer from north Idaho, believes police agencies should have access to the war trucks, but shouldn’t use them for public relations.
“As a retired police officer, I see the need/reason for vehicles like the MRAP. ..but I don't see the reasoning for the MRAP to be used for this purpose,” Cass wrote. “A simple patrol car or two should have been sufficient to show that the police were there protecting the children.”
The Caldwell Police Department did not return a message about how often officers demonstrate the MRAP at area schools.
Note: A parent later revealed the police brought the truck for the school's career day. Cass told IdahoReporter.com he believes that's an appropriate use of the truck.