The Peacekeeper. That’s the popular nickname for the Cadillac Gage Ranger, a 4×4 armored personnel carrier that has made its way from the U.S. military to the Chapel Hill Police Department.
Lieutenant Josh Mecimore says while it’s never been used, it’s important that the department have one on hand.
“It’s something that you don’t need until you need it, and I think for us, being in a situation where we needed it and didn’t have it would be much worse that than having it and not needing it,” says Mecimore.
The 1985 Peacekeeper was decommissioned by the military then transferred to the Durham Police Department. Chapel Hill police acquired it in 2011 using state and federal programs that funnel military surplus to local law enforcement.
In addition to the armored truck, Chapel Hill police have also received military scopes and spare uniforms, but no weapons. Mecimore says maintenance on the Peacekeeper is minimal, and to date it has only ever been used for training.
If it were to be deployed, it would be used as a rescue vehicle.
“That is the reason that we got, that is the way it is intended to be used and the way it would be used if we ever have to deploy it,” says Mecimore. “If an officer is down, or a citizen is down, in an area that is unsafe for us to approach on foot or in a regular vehicle, we would use that armored vehicle to get officers in or medical personnel in to extract that officer or citizen in a safe way.”
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office also has an armored vehicle in its fleet, a V-150 Commando, but Mecimore says the uses of the vehicles are different and the logistics of deployment make it difficult for the departments to share.
“There are always issues with sharing things, because who is responsible for the upkeep, who is responsible for getting it to us when we need it? How far away is it? Is it in Hillsborough where the Sheriff’s Office is? Are you going to drive it 15 or 20 minutes and delay a response?”
Programs that transfer military surplus to local law enforcement have come under fire recently in the wake of the heavily-armed police response to protesters in Ferguson, Missouri.
The New York Times last week published information showing that nearly every county in North Carolina has received military surplus through the federal 1033 program. Law enforcement agencies based in Orange County have reportedly acquired 44 assault rifles and 6 armored vehicles, but it’s not clear which agency has what.
Mecimore says he can only account for what Chapel Hill Police have received: “I know they didn’t come here.”
Elected officials in Chapel Hill and Carrboro have said they plan to release more information on how military surplus is being used by local law enforcement. That report is forthcoming.