Sheriff, commissioners at odds over cost of armored vehicle

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

The Linn County Sheriff's Office has been given use of a military armored vehicle similar to this one. However, costs surrounding maintenance and transporting the vehicle have the sheriff and county commissioners at odds. (Screen shot)

MOUND CITY – The Linn County Commissioners and Linn County Sheriff Kevin Friend have had a strained relationship since Friend took a definitive stand for continuing the School Resource Officer program using county funding. At least two of the commissioners, Jim Johnson and Rick James, have been critics of the program with the aim of reducing funding to it.

So a recent decision by Friend to accept a free, military armored vehicle that cost $7,500 to ship from the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Ga., to Mound City caught the eye and the ire of both of those commissioners. And they jumped on it at the regular commission meeting on Monday, Dec. 6.

Johnson spoke first, noting that the commission had approved paying shipping cost for the nearly 1,000 mile trip the previous week to Paola-based Debrick Truck Line without saying anything. He said that the shipping cost of nearly $8 a mile was more than $3 above what he thought it should be.

As commission Chair Rick James began to speak, an image of a similar armored vehicle went up on the large computer screen in the commission room. James said the the Mine-resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle (MRAP) weighed between 14 and 18 tons, depending on the model.

“I’d like to see the sheriff come in and address why the county needs one of these,” James said, adding that it was a military-grade piece of equipment designed to protect soldiers in transport from being injured or killed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

“I don’t know if we have any IEDs exploding on 69 or 7 or 169,” he said referring to area federal and state highways.

Maintenance too costly

He said the insurance on the vehicle would be costly, and the tires would cost about $2,500 each. “Who’s going to work on them?” he asked.

Both Johnson and James questioned what it would be used for in Linn County. James later noted that the county now had a vehicle that could sustain a blast.

County Counselor Gary Thompson told commissioners that court cases had made it clear that elected officials have complete discretion over how their budget is spent. He said those officials are accountable to the taxpayers, so it makes sense to ask questions about expenditures.

Although the sheriff did not attend the meeting, he issued a statement on Tuesday defending his decision to get the vehicle. He said the MRAP became available recently through the Defense Logistics Agency’s Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO).

“Several were slated for the State of Kansas,” Friend said in the statement. “I provided an interest card to the government to talk about receiving an MRAP in Linn County as I had been researching a vehicle that was armored for situations where law enforcement may face gunfire, or where an active shooter may be involved in perpetrating a wrongful event.

“For the past few years, I have been looking for a retired Brinks truck or similar vehicle that would suffice and serve as an armored response vehicle. I learned that the expense of the trucks was high and repairs for many of the cheaper models could be expensive.

“We were vetted and our region was reviewed by the Government and the LESO program. We were given an MRAP on loan from the government for our use with the only expense being shipping, shipping insurance and permit fees.”

In a separate interview, Friend said that LESO recommended using Debrick because the trucking company had been used to deliver MRAP vehicles to other law enforcement agencies. In addition to already having necessary clearance to go on the base to pick up the vehicle, Debrick’s team was experienced in gaining the necessary permits for the transport, including permits for the load being over width, over height and overweight.

He said the Marine Corps valued the vehicle at $705,000, and it was in very good condition, including the tires. He added that it will take about two to three months to make the necessary modifications such as light bars and signage to make it suitable for use by the sheriff’s office.

Could be used by bordering counties

The sheriff also said that one of the reasons Linn County was able to get the vehicle was that it could be used by counties neighboring to the west and south. He said that Miami and Franklin counties already have an armored vehicle.

While he anticipates only using it five or so times a year, Friend said having it available for situations that included an active shooter would be worth the cost, particularly if it helped save the life of a deputy.

He pointed to several times in the past few years when having an armored personnel carrier would have been critical.

Friend said a gunman perched upon a Pleasanton grain elevator in 2020 kept deputies from getting close. That allowed the gunman to escape and resulted in a dangerous manhunt. An armored vehicle would have allowed deputies to get up close to the elevator and end the situation more quickly and safely, he said.

Friend also said the Kansas Bureau of Investigation has used MRAP vehicles in Linn County to assist the sheriff’s office, including dealing with a shooter in Blue Mound in 2019. He also pointed out the irony that the evening after commissioners complained about the vehicle in Linn County, deputies in Jackson County, Mo., used a MRAP to take out an active shooter in Blue Springs, Mo., without any deputies being injured.

Friend also said Johnson and James were overstating the cost of maintenance on the vehicle. While commissioners were quoting replacement tires at $2,500 each, used tires with plenty of use were available online for less than $180, he said.

He also said that several of his deputies were ex-military and they had driven and maintained MRAPs while in the service. He said those deputies felt they would be able to handle most maintenance needs on the vehicle.

Friend said that while he hoped to get a four-wheeled vehicle because it would be more maneuverable, instead a six-wheel vehicle was shipped at the last minute.

“The MRAP is a very safe response vehicle that can certainly be used for lifesaving measures,” Friend said in his statement. “The vehicle is not armed, it is armored. They have been used in many rescue situations to extract wounded law enforcement, to respond to school shootings to safely get into position for deployments of personnel, all while protecting the responders and extracting person(s) who may be in danger.”

Friend said the decision to get the vehicle should not have been a surprise to the commissioners. He said he tried unsuccessfully to contact James about the MRAP in mid-November.

Commission Danny McCullough was quiet during Monday’s commission meeting. In a separate interview, he said he learned about the vehicle and went to discuss it with Friend.

He said Friend laid out the reasons for getting the vehicle, and that they were reasonable. He said that Friend has always had the best interests of the county in mind, and that the sheriff was careful in his approach to budgeting.

One issue that may be looked at as the result of the dispute is transportation costs. James suggested that the cost of shipping should be included in the county’s list of items that require a bidding process.

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