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Militarizing Police: the Literal War on Drugs

Posted by Joseph Tully | Aug 13, 2015

Police Militarization Against Marijuana in California

Many local police and sheriff departments in California have requested armored military surplus vehicles from the Pentagon to fight marijuana. Imagine cops in camouflage body armor riding their 5-ton MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle raiding a legal garden belonging to a family of 5 with 3 minor children.

The militarization of police is dangerous for society. It perpetuates an “Us” versus “Them” mentality; of both sides being under siege by the other. This becomes absurd when military tanks are requested by local law enforcement for use in otherwise tranquil suburban and rural counties.

“The requests flowed to a massive Pentagon program–known as the 1033 program–that has given communities across the country a total of $5.6 billion in combat equipment left over from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon said, 625 MRAPs. A 2014 NPR analysis found that the Pentagon has also doled out 80,000 assault rifles, 200 grenade launchers, and 12,000 bayonets.” – Mother Jones magazine, the source for this post, which used a FOIA request for the MRAP police request documents below.

It is certainly debatable whether or not law enforcement should receive weapons of war. Using machines developed to fight foreign enemies to assault We the People, the American Public, here at home. American civilians are not military combatants and are not armed with weapons of war. The best arguments for the police to have an armored vehicle are for use as an armored barricade, assisting a downed officer, hostage rescue, responding to a live shooter, etc.

Weapons such as an MRAP, if they are to be used by local law enforcement, should be used DEFENSIVELY to protect officers. However, the requests cited in this post are called out specifically because their use was listed for aggression, destruction, and violation of civil rights.

Below is a look at the California sheriff and police departments that requested armored military vehicles for battling drugs and marijuana:

  • Antioch PD (Contra Costa County) asked for either a wheeled or tracked armored vehicle for their High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). Specifically for the SWAT team and their 15 operations a year. Requested by Antioch Police Chief Allan Cantando. Link to Request
  • Delano PD specifically requested the MRAP MAXXPRO PLUS for their 21 square mile hamlet north of Bakersfield in Kern County. This would be in addition to the “Puma” MRAP they already have. They cite being in a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), and the need for additional armor in dealing with “terrorist acts”. Requested by police Chief Mark Derosia. Link to Request
  • Garden Grove PD in Orange County wants an MRAP because they are in a HIDTA, near Disneyland, and are home of largest mosque West of the Mississippi. Requested by Chief of Police Kevin Raney. Link to Request
  • Kern County Sheriff Office would like TWO troop carrying MRAP vehicles of the wheeled variety. Tracked vehicles are fine for the suburbs of Kabul, but are pot-hole rippers here at home. The vehicles will assist their SWAT team in carrying out 30-40 special operations a year in this High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. Request made by Sheriff Donny Youngblood. Link to Request
  • Kings County (San Joaquin Valley) already has a Peacekeeper armored vehicle. Kern is listed as a HIDTA. But they would like another MRAP for issuing search warrants to people who are innocent until proven guilty. “Knock Knock”, “Who's there?”, KA-BOOM! Requested by David Robinson, who is conveniently the Sheriff/Coroner. Link to Request
  • Murrieta PD in Riverside County already has an armored CASSPIR vehicle, but would like an MRAP for “tactical” situation in this HIDTA. Filed by Capt. Dennis Vrooman. Link to Request
  • Napa PD asked for an MRAP for their tranquil wine country town. They claim it is needed for “drug interdiction”, and was requested by Chief Richard Melton (now retired). Link to Request
  • Novato Police in Marin County asked for TWO vehicles, but to their credit later rescinded the request! Huzzah! Link to Request
  • Salinas PD in Monterey County asked specifically for an RG-33 vehicle of South African design. This is for their SWAT team in their HIDTA of 22 square miles.. Requested by Deputy Chief Terry Gerhardstein. Link to Request
  • City of San Francisco PD would also like an MRAP for SWAT to serve warrants in their High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. They offer to loan it out as a regional asset as well. Requested by Chief Gregory Suhr. Link to Request
  • Shasta County Sheriff would like two armored tactical vehicles. To be used “during apprehension of suspects in both Marijuana eradication and during high risk search warrant service for drug offenders.” Apparently “innocent until proven guilty” is not one of Sheriff Bosenko's Constitutional values. Innocent people can watch a tank “eradicate” their legal crop, and then get served a warrant by paramilitary goons. Link to Request
  • South Lake Tahoe PD protects a population of 21,000 people in that Sierra village. The claim is that an MRAP is needed because “the SWAT team conducts high risk operations” in this High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. Except the scanned form shows a Federal official corrected the error, and the mountaintop hamlet is not really a HIDTA. But it was worth a shot, Chief Uhler! Link to Request
  • Trinity County in Northern CA is not an HIDTA area, YET. They have applied for HIDTA designation, and point this out in their application for an armored vehicle. Their special consideration for the tank is “the abundance of marijuana cultivation” in the county. Requested by Sheriff Bruce Haney. Link to Request
  • West Covina PD (LA County) should not be confused with Covina, which is actually just to the north of West Covina. They claim they need two armored tactical vehicles in addition to their current Peacekeeper. They specifically request the 6×6 “Caiman MRAP”, which does look pretty cool – like a Martian garbage truck. They claim they need these for the purpose of the “SWAT team to serve high risk warrant service as well as narcotics interdiction”. A supplementary letter explains that MRAPS are good at “door pulls” for SWAT, and that the WCPD works closely with DEA to bust drugs. Requested by the retired Chief Wills. Link to Request

Joseph M. Tully is an experienced criminal defense attorney with the California firm of Tully & Weiss, specializing in defending medical cannabis patients, caregivers and cultivators from criminal charges.

About the Author

Joseph Tully

Founding Partner, Criminal Law Specialist Our founding attorney, Joseph Tully, is sought out for his expert legal advice throughout California. With over 20 years of experience as a criminal lawyer, in 1000+ felony and other cases, Tully served as felony trial counsel as a public defender before...