Features of Norwalk police’s new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) transport vehicle:
• Vehicle manufactured for American military conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan
• Norwalk’s vehicle was only used for training purposes at Dayton’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
• Height: 12-feet-high
• Weight: Between 55,000 pounds to 60,000 pounds
• Six-wheel drive
• Can drive and easily navigate through any surface, including mud, sand and snow
• The vehicle’s street legal and can travel down any federal, state or local road
• Top speed equals about 60 mph
Norwalk police’s newest asset might seem more suitable on Middle East battlegrounds rather than in Huron County and surrounding areas.
But the Maple City protectors contend their massive, bulletproof, nearly invincible vehicle can help protect residents across the region from severe public safety threats.
This past week, and for the first time ever, members on Norwalk’s special response team officially deployed the MRAP (standing for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected transport vehicle) for a mission to executive a search warrant to seize AK-47s and other dangerous weapons in Willard.
Made initially for American military combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, manufactured to withstand improvised explosive devices embedded underneath roads, Norwalk police commanders acquired this vehicle through a government equipment surplus website.
Best of all: The vehicle, logging only 4,000 miles and used solely for training at Dayton’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, didn’t cost area taxpayers a single cent via acquisition.
“In this tough economic time, we have a hard enough time trying to figure out ways to pay for new cruisers,” Norwalk police Chief Dave Light said. “We found it. We saw it. We wanted it. It was just luck of the draw we got one of the 12 offered.”
After inscribing Norwalk’s name and logo on it, officials thus far have invested about $2,200 of local taxpayers dollars into the vehicle.
Before using the MRAP, Norwalk’s special response team shuttled around in a repurposed ambulance looking more like a minivan than an armored vehicle.
All team members, including a hostage negotiator and perimeter shooters, would need to jam in just to fit everyone inside.
“That didn’t offer any protection whatsoever,” said Norwalk executive officer Mike Conney, who’s also the special response team’s commander. “We were glad to have it, but it just wasn’t designed for the purposes we needed it for.”
So when the MRAP became available, Conney, Light and others pounced on their mouse, feverishly clicking in hopes of obtaining such a unique vehicle for free.
The vehicle now comfortably fits all team members, although anyone hopping inside might literally need to jump in to get in this 12-foot-high, all-terrain military vehicle.
“I believe this vehicle can be the difference between life and death for somebody,” Conney said. “We can get in and out much quicker.”
In recent years, the special response team, which also provides aid to areas in Erie and Sandusky counties, has only deployed for three or four missions per 12-month cycle.
Other than training, only serious incidents — a rampage, for instance — putting many lives at stake would require the vehicle’s use, Conney said.
“Not every call is going to require such a behemoth monster truck,” Conney said.
Different type of drive
The MRAP definitely handles a bit differently than what Conney’s used to.
“It’s not like my Ford Fiesta, which is about the smallest car you can find,” said Conney while driving the MRAP about 55 mph on U.S. 20 on a recent weekday.
The vehicle is street legal and can access any federal, state or local road, including those in Norwalk.
Although the narrow windshield and windows, which don’t lower, make visibility tough.
“One place you won’t go with this is the drive-thru at McDonald’s,” Conney said. “You can’t stick your head out or anything. When driving, you just have to slow down and watch out.”
Some community members have already voiced outrage about police “militarizing” the community.
But Conney doesn’t see it that way.
“Routine things should be handled routinely and not with a special response team," he said. "But I feel safer knowing that if something horrible happens, a Columbine-type thing, it’s going to help us deal with what’s going on and save lives.”