City weighs Humvee acquisition

by Susie Currie

The Hyattsville Humvee debuted at the National Night Out Against Crime on August 5, 2014. Photo courtesy Susie Currie.

City can get one for free, but some councilmembers wonder:  At what cost?

Humvee or no humvee? That is the question facing the Hyattsville City Council as it decides whether the police department should accept a free military-surplus High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle  (HMMWV), commonly known as a Humvee.

Councilmembers discussed the issue at their January 6 meeting, following a December 24 memo from Hyattsville City Police Chief Douglas Holland that advocated getting one “to improve the City’s ability to adequately respond to both natural and manmade disasters.”

Council is expected to vote on it on January 21.

Under a 1997 federal law, the Department of Defense can transfer its excess property to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The inventory of available hand-me-downs changes constantly and ranges from file cabinets, treadmills and microwaves to M16s, helicopters and Humvees. Since the program began, an estimated 10 million items have gone to more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies in every U.S. state and territory.

Among them are the cities of Cheverly, Laurel and Greenbelt. Now, Holland wants to add Hyattsville to the list — and a used Humvee to the fleet. The all-wheel drive vehicles are designed to transport soldiers through harsh weather and terrain. In Hyattsville, Holland told the council on January 6, a Humvee could be used in “large-scale snow events, rain or flood events, rough-terrain or off-road response to emergencies.”

The chief emphasized that Humvees “are not and will not be designated for everyday, routine patrols. I can’t stress that enough. This is not a vehicle that would be patrolling the streets of Hyattsville on a daily basis.”

It would also be on display at public events such as National Night Out and Truck Touch.

“They’re generally very popular at these events,” Holland said.

But the idea was not so popular with some councilmembers.

“I can’t support the department acquiring a military vehicle,” said Tim Hunt (Ward 3). “It’s wrong on so many levels for a municipality of this size, in this area. It puts up barriers and sends the wrong message. …  [And] when you put military equipment on the street as part of a police force, it can escalate situations.”

Patrick Paschall (Ward 3) agreed, saying that the message conveyed would be “police state.”

Holland attempted to reassure the councilmembers, saying, “This is not a ballistic-rated vehicle or

an armored personnel carrier. It’s simply a Humvee transport vehicle.”

Paschall also pointed out that the vehicle is “incredibly environmentally unfriendly.”

“I don’t think that because it’s free is a good enough reason to take it,” he concluded.

While Hyattsville would not be charged for the Humvee, valued at $60,000, the city would pay any transportation costs. And since the vehicle would arrive in its original camouflage condition, it would need a paint job. Red-and-blue emergency lights would need to be installed. The retail cost of these changes would run an estimated $1,900 to $2,500, said Holland, but added that the department is investigating getting those services donated.

Another cost would be filling it up. Humvees use diesel fuel, and lots of it.

“Obviously, the miles per gallon is not great,” said Holland, adding that because of its “limited deployment,” the total fuel consumption would be low.

Shani Warner (Ward 2) said that although her first reaction was negative, “I’m actually still thinking through this. Given Hyattsville’s proximity to the nation’s capital, probably one of the premier terrorist targets, it’s at least possible for me to imagine a situation in which this would be not just be a promotional device but something that could be used.”

She later added that the strongest argument for acquiring the vehicle was its potential snow-removal capability. Others were intrigued by this as well, especially after Assistant City Administrator Jim Chandler said that Hyattsville has “a fairly limited fleet” of trucks that can plow snow.

“The fact that we get a not free, but very inexpensive four-wheel drive solution to inclement weather conditions and transportation needs is a very compelling argument for me,” said Clay Williams (Ward 5). “Is [the argument against it] just solely that we fear what having a Humvee says about our community? If that’s the concern, I don’t agree with that holding up the acquisition of this vehicle. If there’s something else that clearly speaks against acquiring it to fulfill those needs, I would like to hear it. I haven’t heard it yet.”