More than $5 million in military equipment sent to local law enforcement since 2016

ORLANDO, Fla. — With a V-shaped hull and armor, it was designed to withstand an improvised explosive device.

The Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected light tactical vehicle, also known as the MRAP, saw extensive use in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is now also part of the fleet for local law enforcement.

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Under the Department of Defense’s 1033 program, military surplus is made available to law enforcement, saving agencies money while also inviting controversy about the over-militarization of police.

“What happened since 9/11 is the militarization of police,” said Orlando attorney Howard Marks. “Hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars were poured into local communities on the basis that we have to fight terrorism.”

The program, which has been around for decades, came under scrutiny in 2014 following the protests and riots in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. Critics charged that police were blurring the line between protection and aggression.

As a new round of protests and riots sweeps the nation, critics are once again zeroing in on the 1033 program. But the situation is more complicated than just MRAPs.

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“The list of material that police departments are eligible for is very restricted and controlled,” said John DeCarlo, former police chief and current professor at the University of New Haven. “Most of the stuff is not in this dramatic category of armored personnel carriers. Most of it is office furniture, and that does save municipalities a lot of money.”

According to the most current 1033 list, law enforcement agencies in central Florida have received $5.4 million in surplus since 2016; however, most is parts and basic equipment.

Among the items on the list: The Seminole County Sheriff’s Office took in four cargo trucks, an inflatable boat and a washing machine; the Edgewater Police Department got two all-terrain vehicles; the Groveland Police Department got a notebook computer and a laser printer; and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office got 34 duffle bags.

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As for the MRAPs, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office was one of the recipients. “This is a vehicle that is used in disaster response,” the office said. “It’s a high vehicle that allows the operator to drive into high water and over any hazards that might be on the ground. We use it a lot during hurricanes to rescue people who are stranded or to get into areas that are flooded.”

The other law enforcement departments that took in MRAPs since 2016 including Ormond Beach, Clermont, Leesburg and Volusia County, which also use its vehicles for similar rescue operations.

“These provide a multiplier for police capability, not necessarily police offense,” DeCarlo said.