Copwatch-4: The militarization of MPD

Like many police forces, Memphis Police Department is becoming increasingly militarized.
MPD possesses two armored vehicles.
The newest is an MRAP, (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) designed for troop survival against Improvised Explosive Devices in Iraq.   The design is not as successful in Afghanistan because of its almost twenty ton heft.  It is being replaced by the military and many are given to police forces.

MRAP armored vehicle
Photo by Chloe Morroni

Chloe Morroni’s piece for Fox 13 on the MRAP.
The MRAP, according to MPD, has been used once to breach a door during a hostage crisis, and it has been seen at the August 2016 Graceland protests.
More on the MRAP.  Wiki  Manufacturer
This MRAP is a Maxxpro Category 1, made by Navistar International Military Group during an expansive and short-lived program where 5,250 of these models were built and scrapped by the military between 2007 and 2012.   The MRAP program was replaced by the lighter and more agile MRAP-ATV design.

The Maxxpro MRAPs weigh over 19 tons loaded, and, due to their v-shaped hull and top-heavy design, were lethal to their occupants in water, where crews died in rollover accidents.    They were also vulnerable to snagging overhead electrical wires, due to their height, and electrocuting crew members.   They massive weight was OK in the flat deserts of Iraq but unwieldy in the mountains of Afghanistan.    About $50B was spent on MRAPS by the military before the design was scrapped.    Despite their $500K unit cost, many of these MRAPs were abandoned in Iraq due to the high cost of transporting them elsewhere, and logistical costs due to their heavy fuel consumption and maintenance difficulty due to unavailability of spares.   We don’t know how much MPD pays to fuel and maintain their MRAP.

Lenco Bear.

The MPD TACT squad owns a Lenco Bear armored vehicle.   These photos were taken on 5/27/2016 at Overton Park, where it was parked among revelers at the Latino Fest.

The Lenco Bear (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response) is a military vehicle made by Lenco Industries in Massachusetts.   It has half-inch armor, can withstand high velocity rifle bullets, and can carry up to 15 fully equipped SWAT soldiers.   It’s based on a Ford truck chassis and weighs over ten tons.   It is equipped with a roof-mounted hatch and has rifle ports.

The MPD unit is equipped with flashing lightbars, sirens, spotlights and a winch.   Its rear door is adorned with the MPD TACT cobra logo.

The Lenco Bear participated in an act of mass intimidation on April 2nd, 2016, when 75 police, including the TACT team, assembled protect the Zoo from Park users toting balloons.

M113 Armored Personnel Carrier

MPD kept a fully functional, Vietnam-vintage M113 tracked armored personnel carrier at the Training Academy up to mid 2016.

Paramilitary Units at MPD TACT Squad

The origin of the TACT squad was in the Emergency Squad in the 1960s.  By the early 1980s TACT operations were being reported.  Its personnel includes a major and two lieutenants and about 15 personnel with advanced firearms, explosives and “hazardous material” training.

Unit Recognition.

TACT team members generally wear Battle Dress Uniform pants, paratrooper boots, police shirt or dark short-sleeve shirt, ballistic vest, tactical vest and either a ball cap or kevlar helmet.   Their uniforms are pretty consistent and feature the striking cobra logo official patch on their left shoulder.  They also wear MPD badges.

Vehicles.

TACT uses a range of vehicles.  They usually appear in black Suburbans, occasionally in the Lenco Bear or the MRAP, and they use a step-through van painted very dark green with the cobra logo painted on the side for breaching attacks.   The Suburbans have no overt police equipment, lights or front bumpers and the windows are heavily blacked out.

Events

The TACT team was suspended for retraining in October 2015 after an incident in which two TACT members and a civilian died.

Recently, they deployed

  • At the Greensward, April 2nd, 2016
  • Latino Fest, Overton Park
  • Martin Luther King Memorial Parade, April 4th 2017, where TACT snipers were stationed on the roof of City Hall
  • Immigration march, May 1st, 2017

 

Multi Agency Gang Unit

This unit was set up in 2012 as a cooperative venture between MPD. Shelby Sheriff’s Dept, FBI, BAFTA, the Federal Western District Court of Tennessee and the Shelby prosecutor’s office.   It was a ‘new and improved’ version of previous anti-gang task forces.

Its main role is to run operations against organized crime, principally street gangs, but its members regularly police street protests.  Members have recently been seen at the May 1st, 2017 Immigration March and the April 22nd, 2017 Science March, where they performed traffic control and other duties alongside MPD personnel.

Unit Recognition

MGU members wear a ballistic vest with POLICE on front and back, and the MGU patch worn on the belly, with their LE badge.  This is worn with a regular police-issue equipment belt and sidearm, a variety of footwear evidently chosen for comfort or speed, straight leg cargo pants which are not tucked into boots, and a black shirt.

Vehicles

MGU members generally travel in either Dodge Chargers or Chevy SUVS, similar to those used by MPD and the Sheriff’s department.   The cars are usually white and have most of the standard police equipment:  front bumpers, external sirens, manually operated spotlights, prisoner cage.   They are otherwise without police markings or top dome lights.   Their emergency blue lights are concealed.   They can’t be mistaken for civilian vehicles.

The Homeland Security Squad.

The Homeland Security Squad at MPD is sheep-dipped, i.e. paid for by the Federal Government.   It was set up in 2005 and its stated objective of combating terrorism has expanded to include the surveillance and investigation of political actors.   They are implicated in the A-list revelations and court case, and they work closely with the Tennessee Fusion Center.

They generally operate in plain clothes out of unmarked cars and vans.   Very little is known about them.

Hoewver, on May 25th 2017 Jeff Sessions came to Memphis, and the photo on the right shows one of the fifteen or so HSA police who accompanied him.   The picture on the left shows a cop with a MPD badge, but who is wearing the same design of ballistic jacket and body camera as the Federal HSA cop.   No other MPD on the scene had gear like this.

Could this woman be one of the mysterious Memphis Homeland Security squad?

 

 

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