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Why Do the Sanford Police Have Armored Vehicles?

Police Chief Thomas Connolly and Lieutenant Craig Andersen met recently with the City Council’s Municipal Operations and Property Subcommittee to address concerns about the necessity for Sanford to have two armored response vehicles. After the Black Lives Matter demonstration and march that took place in June, more people became aware of the vehicles, as they were parked in front of the Police Department. Mayor Tom Cote said he has continued to receive emails from Sanford residents who question the need for the vehicles, or who think they should be sold and the money redirected to more pressing problems.

The military-grade vehicles are known as MRAPs, which stands for Mine-Resistant Ambush Protection. They were acquired through the federal government’s Defense Logistics Agency in 2013 and 2019. The smaller of the two is an M-ATV, which is a more maneuverable version (similar to the one pictured above).

Chief Connolly told the Subcommittee the vehicles are strictly for the use of the Southern Maine Special Response Team, of which Sanford is the lead agency. He said SMSRT’s mission is to respond to active shooters and other situations where an armed person is barricaded in a building or controlling an area where they could be a threat to the lives of others. The vehicles’ armor plating enables them to get very close to a scene to rescue an injured person safely. The team includes trained crisis negotiators and paramedics in addition to police officers.

Lt. Andersen is the commander of the SMSRT and related several examples of situations where the vehicles were deployed to deescalate a situation. One example was a 2016 case where a Grammar Road resident had assaulted family members and barricaded himself in his bedroom with a firearm. Sanford Police were unable to make contact with the suspect, but he surrendered without further incident after the SMSRT arrived.

Although MRAPs have been used by law enforcement agencies in several cities across the country in response to racial justice protests, Chief Connolly told the Subcommittee that the SMSRT’s use of the vehicles is “100% about saving lives,” and that their Standard Operating Procedures would not allow them to be used for crowd control or as an intimidation device. With regard to the Black Lives Matter demonstration in June, Lt. Andersen said the team was called out to protect protesters exercising their constitutional rights, after a gunman was spotted on the roof of a local restaurant.

Chief Connolly said even if the vehicles were no longer needed or wanted, they could not be sold. They can only be returned to the federal government or transferred to another agency.

Photo by PEOSoldier – https://www.flickr.com/photos/peosoldier/6244660278/in/photostream, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17171884

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