Farmington Police Department’s SWAT team walks past the department’s new Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle on Thursday at a police office
Farmington Police Department's SWAT team walks past the department's new Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle on Thursday at a police office on McCormick School Road in Farmington. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)

FARMINGTON — It stands 14 feet tall and weighs 45,000 pounds.

It can withstand bullets and bombs and plow through flood waters and fire.

And it will be at the next SWAT situation in Farmington.

Farmington police obtained a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP, from the U.S. military.

The military hired contractors to build more than 24,000 of the vehicles for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the U.S. Department of Defense website.

As the military scales down operations in those countries, law enforcement agencies throughout the country are getting used military vehicles for next to nothing, said Farmington police Cmdr. Cliff Washburn, who overseas Farmington's SWAT, or Special Weapons and Tactics, team.

The City of Farmington paid $3,000 for the transport of the MRAP, which cost more than $600,000 to build, Washburn said.

Washburn said the vehicle will be deployed at all future SWAT team calls. The vehicle can carry a 10-person SWAT team, plus one person armed in the turret on the top.

The Farmington SWAT team, on average, responds to about one call a month.

The SWAT team is called out for barricaded suspects or hostage situations. It also serves high-risk arrest warrants, which can apply to an array of charges, Washburn said.

Washburn said the tank-like vehicle can also be used in rescue situations -- such as a flood -- or to ferry victims away from dangerous situations.

"It's foolish to leave an asset at home when you might need it in the field," Washburn said. "Plus, it's very intimidating. You roll up in front of somebody's house with that, and it gets their attention. We'll take it everywhere we go."

While police say the vehicle will increase officer safety, the American Civil Liberties Union said the Department of Defense MRAP distribution program is further militarizing police forces across the country.

Farmington Police Cmdr. Cliff Washburn operates the Farmington Police Department’s new Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, also known as an
Farmington Police Cmdr. Cliff Washburn operates the Farmington Police Department's new Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, also known as an MRAP, on Thursday at a police office on McCormick School Road in Farmington. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)

The ACLU announced in March it was investigating the prevalence of police departments relying on military style equipment and training. The organization said on its website that militarizing police can "encourage overly aggressive policing."

"Of course, we all want law enforcement to be equipped with the tools they need to do their job," said Micah McCoy, the communications director for the ACLU in New Mexico. "But I think we need to question when we use military weapons, tactics and equipment to police a community."

Washburn said the military-style training and equipment helps the SWAT team diffuse hostile situations more quickly.

"Just because it came from the military doesn't mean it's going to be used by the military," Washburn said. "Traditionally, when the SWAT teams arrive, the situations tend to de-escalate."

Ryan Boetel covers crime and San Juan County for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and rboetel@daily-times.com. Follow him @rboetel on Twitter.