ROGERSVILLE — A military surplus armored personnel carrier (APC) that was awarded to the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office in 2003 has been recalled as part of President Obama’s effort to decrease the military appearance of law enforcement agencies nationwide.
The HCSO was among 11 Tennessee law enforcement agencies that had their APCs recalled.
The state Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) arranged to pick up Hawkins County’s APC Tuesday, and Sheriff Ronnie Lawson said it will be sorely missed.
The HCSO’s APC was used mainly for transporting officers during armed standoffs, as well as for reaching areas in rough terrain for rescues and missing person searches.
One high-profile occasion when the APC was deployed was a 2013 shooting in the Caney Creek community involving a man who had fired shots at children on a hay ride and then fired an assault rifle at police before fleeing into the woods.
The HCSO still has the military Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle it received two years ago.
Lawson said the APC was targeted for recall because it rolls on tracks, as opposed to the MRAP, which rolls on wheels.
But it was the tracks that made the APC especially useful in rural, mountainous communities like Hawkins County.
“We’ve used it numerous times, not only in tactical situations, but for search and rescue,” Lawson told the times-News Wednesday. “A track vehicle will go in the snow and mud in places where the MRAP won’t go. That thing was valued at $244,000, and it was a donation from the military through the state of Tennessee to us. It was strictly used for officer and public safety, and by no means a vehicle for attacks. It’s not a tank.”
Last year President Obama ordered a review of surplus military equipment acquired under the Defense Department’s 1033 program after the Ferguson, Mo., riots stemming from the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.
In a prepared statement, Obama said, “We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force, as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them. It can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message. So we’re going to prohibit some equipment made for the battlefield that is not appropriate for local police departments.”
An executive order signed last year by President Obama prohibited the distribution of certain military surplus items and ordered recalls of equipment including:
• Tracked armored vehicles: vehicles that provide ballistic protection to their occupants and utilize a tracked system instead of wheels for forward motion.
• Weaponized aircraft, vessels, and vehicles of any kind.
• Firearms and ammunition of .50 caliber or higher.
• Grenade launchers: firearm or firearm accessory designed to launch small explosive projectiles.
• Bayonets: large knives designed to be attached to the muzzle of a rifle/shotgun/long gun for the purposes of hand-to-hand combat.
• Camouflage uniforms: Does not include woodland or desert patterns or solid color uniforms.
Aside from Hawkins County, other Tennessee agencies that lost APCs included the Greeneville Police Department, Morristown Police Department, Lenoir City Police Department, Pigeon Forge Police Department, Claiborne County Sheriff’s Office, Roane County Sheriff’s Office, Warren County Sheriff’s office, Columbia Police Department, Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, and Memphis Police Department, which lost two of the vehicles.
Lawson said he believes the loss of the APC will impact the safety of his officers and Hawkins County citizens.
“It was just a tool to protect my officers and the citizens of Hawkins County, and by no means an attack vehicle,” Lawson said. “It doesn’t have any weaponry in it at all. Things happen across the nation, and I don’t know how they were used in other cities, but here in rural East Tennessee that vehicle is a valuable asset to anyone who has one.”
Below is a video from the 2009 Mooresburg standoff showing the APC being deployed: