Images of armored vehicles, tear gas canisters and police officers equipped with assault rifles in Ferguson, Mo., have left many people uncomfortable with the military-grade equipment made available to local law enforcement agencies.

Yet officers say it's better to have the equipment and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

In September 2013, Jefferson County was given a 20-ton Mine-Resistant Ambush Protection vehicle, commonly referred to as an MRAP. The armored vehicle stands about 13 feet tall and has doors weighing 700 pounds that require hydraulics to open.

MRAPs and similar vehicles were used by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, so they are designed to withstand heavy assaults.

Jefferson County Emergency Response Team officers received training on the vehicle before it arrived in the county last year.

The MRAP was donated at no cost to Jefferson County through the Defense Logistics Agency, a government surplus program that provides local law enforcement agencies with military equipment.

The same agency has distributed military surplus equipment to the police that serve Ferguson, Mo., and many other law enforcement agencies around the country.

According to information from the Pentagon and published in the New York Times earlier this week, the MRAP is the last item Jefferson County has received from Defense Logistics Agency. It was shipped to Jefferson County on Sept. 9, 2013. The value of the vehicle is $658,000.

In 2012, Jefferson County received six utility trucks, and since 2006 it has received 16 assault rifles and 10 automatic pistols from the DLA.

In comparison, Switzerland County received one assault rifle and six automatic pistols in 2006.

Carroll County received 15 assault rifles in 2012. Trimble County received seven automatic pistols in 2010 and a utility truck in 2012.

According to the same information released by the Pentagon, Marion County police departments have received 330 assault rifles and three grenade launchers, and Jefferson County, Ky., police departments have received 177 assault rifles.

Capt. Keith Hartman with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Dept. and the county's ERT- a joint force made up of city police officers and Sheriff's deputies for high-risk warrants and other situations where officers believe force might escalate to a dangerous levels - said the MRAP is just a tool like any other piece of police equipment.

"We're not going to use it on a daily basis, but it's good to have it if we need it," Hartman said.

The issues at hand are safety and preparedness, Hartman said.

Earlier this week, he said he saw a photograph online from the 1960s of a girl who had sought shelter at a college because of a sniper.

"The caption said 'If this was your daughter, or sister or friend, wouldn't you want law enforcement to have an armored vehicle?' To me, that was a highlight of the purpose of law enforcement agencies to have something like that," he said.

In the 11 months Jefferson County has had the MRAP, Hartman said it has been used only in training exercises and the only upkeep needed has been a battery replacement.

Madison Police Chief Dan Thurston said it would have to be a drastic situation for the MRAP to be pressed into duty.

"It would really depend on the magnitude of the incident involved," Thurston said. "Officer safety, public safety, city safety would all have to be a factor."

The Sheriff's Office applied for an armored vehicle and was on a waiting list for several months before receiving the MRAP last year. When the vehicle arrived, Sgt. Ben McKay - leader of the ERT - said he was expecting an armored Hummer.

Jefferson County Sheriff John Wallace said the advantage to having the armored vehicle the size of the MRAP is that the entire ERT team can fit inside.

"It allows the entire team to be within the vehicle and moving to a dangerous situation and not be exposed," Wallace said.

Wallace said that the vehicle could also be used to transport someone from a dangerous situation or create an entrance in a building if necessary.

Hartman said there is a legitimate need for police officers to have that kind of military equipment.

"Law enforcement has been viewed as a paramilitary organization since the '50s and '60s," he said. "We're just evolving along with society. We have more tools than we used to have, and there's a need for a lot of those tools. There's a lot of weapons on the street.

"We hope we never have to use it (the MRAP), but we've got to be prepared for all situations."

For Wallace, the bottom line comes down to the safety of his officers.

"These guys, we're lucky to have them. These guys train hard," Wallace said. "Whenever we send these guys out, we're really sending them into harms way. We really can't get them enough protection."
Here are the items Jefferson, Trimble and Carroll counties have received. Included is the value of the item and the date it was received by the county.



JEFFERSON COUNTY

•Rifle, 5.56 mm., $499 08/03/06

•Rifle, 5.56 mm., $499 08/03/06

•Rifle, 5.56 mm., $499 08/03/06

•Rifle, 5.56 mm., $499 08/03/06

•Rifle, 5.56 mm., $499 08/03/06

•Rifle, 5.56 mm., $499 12/06/06

•Rifle, 5.56 mm., $499 12/06/06

•Rifle, 5.56 mm., $499 12/06/06

•Rifle, 7.62 mm., $138 08/03/06

•Rifle, 7.62 mm., $138 08/03/06

•Rifle, 7.62 mm., $138 08/03/06

•Pistol, .45 automatic, $58.71 06/10/10

•Pistol, .45 automatic, $58.71 06/10/10

•Pistol, .45 automatic, $58.71 06/10/10

•Pistol, .45 automatic, $58.71 06/10/10

•Pistol, .45 automatic, $58.71 06/10/10

•Pistol, .45 automatic, $58.71 06/10/10

•Pistol, .45 automatic, $58.71 06/10/10

•Pistol, .45 automatic, $58.71 06/10/10

•Pistol, .45 automatic, $58.71 06/10/10

•Pistol, .45 automatic, $58.71 06/10/10

•Rifle,5.56 mm., $120.00 06/10/10

•Rifle,5.56 mm., $120.00 06/10/10

•Rifle,5.56 mm., $120.00 06/10/10

•Rifle,5.56 mm., $120.00 06/10/10

•Rifle,5.56 mm., $120.00 06/10/10

•Truck Utility, $47,989 02/10/12

•Truck Utility, $47,989 02/10/12

•Truck Utility, $47,989 02/10/12

•Truck Utility, $47,989 02/10/12

•Truck Utility, $47,989 07/23/12

•Truck Utility, $55,500 04/30/12

•MRAP, $658,000 09/09/13

•Roller motorized, $36,005 07/06/12

•Roller motorized, $119,023 07/10/12

CARROLL

•Rifle, 5.56 mm., $499 02/27/12

•Rifle, 5.56 mm., $499 02/27/12

•Rifle, 5.56 mm., $499 02/27/12

•Rifle, 5.56 mm., $499 02/27/12

•Rifle, 5.56 mm., $499 02/27/12

•Rifle, 5.56 mm., $499 02/27/12

•Rifle, 5.56 mm., $499 02/27/12

•Rifle, 5.56 mm., $499 02/27/12

•Rifle, 5.56 mm., $499 02/27/12

•Rifle, 5.56 mm., $499 02/27/12

•Rifle, 7.62 mm., $138 02/27/12

•Rifle, 7.62 mm., $138 02/27/12

•Rifle, 7.62 mm., $138 02/27/12

•Rifle, 7.62 mm., $138 02/27/12

•Rifle, 7.62 mm., $138 02/27/12

TRIMBLE

•Pistol .45,automatic, $58.71 12/15/10

•Pistol .45,automatic, $58.71 12/15/10

•Pistol .45,automatic, $58.71 12/15/10

•Pistol .45,automatic, $58.71 12/15/10

•Pistol .45,automatic, $58.71 12/15/10

•Pistol .45,automatic, $58.71 12/15/10

•Pistol .45,automatic, $58.71 12/15/10

•Truck Utility, $25,000 12/03/12