BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WALA) -The Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office bought a $222,000 SWAT vehicle. The vehicle, bought with money seized from drug traffickers, will replace the old “Tactical Response Unit” that was a retired ambulance from 1998. The new unit arrived on Sunday, August 17.
“We are just here to protect the people and that’s why we have it,” said Major Anthony Lowery with the Baldwin County Sheriff’s office.
The heavy duty vehicle arrives in Baldwin County as the nation discusses police militarization. Riots in Ferguson, Missouri have prompted the question – are local departments becoming militarized in their attitude toward the public?
President Obama even spoke about it on Monday.
“There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don’t want those lines blurred,” he said.
The President asked local law enforcement agencies to make sure they’re buying only the machinery they need.
This is not a new topic in Baldwin County. Back in 2013 when Sheriff Mack asked the Baldwin County Commission for money to fund this vehicle, he received some criticism. Commissioner Frank Burt said he had received calls and emails from people who believe local law enforcement should not be in military type vehicles. Burt declined to talk with us on camera today.
The question remains. Is a SWAT vehicle needed in Baldwin County? We asked Baldwin County residents.
“I think it’s an asset for us to have that vehicle,” Jerry Buthea said. “It’ll come in handy when we’re in need of it.”
But Michael Wilson says it’s unnecessary.
“Not really it would just frighten people more than anything. I don’t really see a reason for a big old militarized vehicle because this place is relatively safe already,” said Wilson. “It just seems like they’re alienating themselves.”
Lowery says the vehicle is only meant to keep their deputies and the people of Baldwin County safe. He wants to remind the public that it’s not a military vehicle.
“This is not an offensive weapon. It doesn’t have any weapons on it, or mounted on it in any form or fashion,” said Lowery. “We can use this for hostage rescue or high water rescues or anything along those lines.”