The general public's response to the Medford Police Department's purchase of a new, heavily armored vehicle for its SWAT team seems to be disbelief. That's understandable. While police officers face daily danger and deserve to be as safe as possible while doing their jobs, it's hard to see how this level of equipment is necessary in Medford, Ore.
The vehicle in question, built on a Ford F-550 chassis, features a rotating turret on the roof, massive tires that can run flat and thick windows and armor plating that can stop a .50-caliber, full-metal-jacket round.
For the sake of comparison, the "up-armored" version of the Humvee used by American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan can stop a 7.62 mm round. A .50-caliber rifle measures 12.954 mm.
The vehicle cost the Medford Police Department $260,000. The department amassed the money from balances carried over from previous budgets and recent savings in equipment repair, fuel and other services.
It's nice to see the department making the most of its money. But it's important to remember where that money came from — the city's general fund — and wonder what other uses it might be put to if returned to the general fund.
For that matter, the police department could have banked the cash toward future projects — say, the new headquarters the department needs.
Department leaders decided against asking voters to help build a new police station on the November ballot. The decided instead to take a long-range approach and commission a study first to determine space needs over the next 20 years.
A prediction: When the issue of a bond measure for a new police station does come up, voters will remember the $260,000 SWAT vehicle designed to withstand multiple .50-caliber rounds.
We don't begrudge the department the equipment it needs to protect the public and police officers. We do question whether this level of protection will be needed often enough to justify the expense. It's possible, of course, that Medford's criminals are planning to arm themselves with .50-caliber machine guns. But is it likely?