Police usage of armored surveillance vehicles becoming more widespread across the United States
By Madison Ruppert
Editor of End the Lie
Recently the Sun-Sentinel out of Fort Lauderdale, run by the Tribune Company which runs the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, among others, covered how the Fort Lauderdale Police Department has deployed “The Peacemaker,” which is an armored bank truck converted into a surveillance powerhouse.
The police purchased the discontinued armored truck from Brink’s for $10 then retrofitted it with cameras on all of the bullet-proof windows and it now has the ability to stream live panoramic video to the police headquarters for up to 700 hours.
The truck is unmanned and emblazoned with slogans which read, “Warning: You are under video surveillance” and “Whatcha gonna do when we come for you?”
The strategy behind the Peacemaker is simple, almost laughably so. They believe that just leaving it in parked in areas in which there is a crime problem will act to curb criminal activity.
“Make no mistakes about it,” Detective Travis Mandell told the Sun-Sentinel. “We want people to know that we are watching the bad guys.”
It seems that they aren’t under the impression that they’ll actually catch people with the video captured by the Peacemaker, instead hoping that just having it present will act to deter crime in a significant way.
The Ft. Lauderdale police have two of these trucks, the second one being a converted from a former SWAT vehicle.
The police take the trucks to street corners which have problems with crime along with outside the houses of suspected drug dealers, a move which many might consider harassment.
For instance, placing an obvious surveillance van right outside the house of an innocent person very well might attract undue attention, even leading neighbors to think that they are a criminal even before any investigation or prosecution takes place.
This could act to destroy an individual’s reputation or ostracize them from their community by making everyone believe that they are a criminal without so much as a hearing.
One individual who is already feeling the impact this device can have is 60-year-old Tania Ouaknine, a local innkeeper who told the Sun-Sentinel that, “[Police] say I am running a whorehouse,” while she counters, “I run a motel. The only thing that I don’t have is the five stars.”
However, police refuse to say why exactly they chose to park one of the two Peacemakers the department currently has right across from Ouaknine’s Parisian Motel in an abandoned lot just last week.
Even without explicit admission, it is quite obvious they are targeting Ouaknine as the Sun-Sentinel points out that records from the city and police show that Ouaknine and her motel were subjected to an undercover investigation targeting prostitution.
On October 28, Ouaknine was arrested on three counts of renting rooms to prostitutes at the rate of $20 an hour and the case is still pending. I find the fact that prostitution is still illegal absolutely ridiculous because it just acts to drive it further underground making it even more dangerous for all involved, but that is another article entirely.
Ouaknine claims she has done nothing illegal and yet she has still been summoned to appear in court in February for a hearing based on the investigation and has already received a warning letter from the city’s nuisance abatement board.
City records show that it is the second time the city board has chosen to target the motel since 2008 and Ouaknine points out, “They’ve tried everything to shut me down and have failed. Now they bring this truck to intimidate me and my customers.”
Some of the motel’s neighbors characterize the truck’s presence as yet another form of constant police harassment.
Leo Cooper, a 27-year-old, told the Sun-Sentinel that he recently witnessed two undercover police officers get out of an unmarked car near the Peacemaker and began questioning a group of men who were gathered at the nearby corner.
Just minutes later, Cooper says that one of the men bolted and another man present at the scene was charged with loitering.
“This is what happens here every day. We can’t sit outside without being harassed,” Cooper said. “Now we have that truck. Most of us are not doing anything wrong. We can’t be outside?”
I think Cooper’s point is a valid one, however, someone might point out that this is exactly how drug dealers operate on street corners and thus the police had a somewhat reasonable suspicion they were acting upon.
However, the logic used by police is far from compelling as they have already resorted to the tired pro-Big Brother rationale which states, “If you have nothing to hide, why do you care?”
In fact, Detective Mandell said that almost word-for-word in saying, “People who are abiding by the law should have no problems with this. People may feel that their privacy is being infringed on, but when you think about it, every day you walk down the street you are being watched by 20 to 30 cameras from private businesses and homes.”
This logic is so wildly fallacious it would be laughable if it were not so often used by police forces, governments and their apologists.
To be fair, some actually like the Peacemaker, saying, “I wish they had another one out here.”
But the local situation in Ft. Lauderdale and those involved are not nearly as important as the broader trend at work here.
Indeed these surveillance trucks are being deployed across the nation and this situation in Ft. Lauderdale is just a microcosmic example of how they are used, the controversy they create and the wildly divided opinion on how they are used.
Some departments across the country are using converted vehicles like in Ft. Lauderdale but there are companies making vehicles specifically designed for this purpose like Sirchie Finger Print Laboratories’ Vehicle Division out of New Jersey.
Sirchie, just one of many companies engaged in this field, makes a wide variety of vehicles for many specific purposes, and interestingly their section for surveillance vehicles and equipment is marked “Top Secret” with the message: “For Password Access, Call 1-800-545-7375” which I have already done although I doubt they will give someone like me access.
That being said, it appears that converting Brink’s armored trucks is quite popular, as another police department in Peoria, Illinois has also outfitted an old Brink’s truck with surveillance cameras, dubbing it the “Armadillo.”
It has apparently worked so well for them that they, like Ft. Lauderdale, have a second vehicle which they call the “Armadillo Two.” Clearly whoever is naming these isn’t the most creative.
The relatively new police chief of Evansville, Indiana, wants to do a similar thing, in this case calling their vehicle “The Guardian.”
He claims that Evansville has over 100 gang-affiliated individuals, “many” are believed to be responsible for shootings and he plans to “put surveillance video on it and when you have a known area where there’s a gang hanging out or something, you just park it in the street and it basically records everything.”
Local station WFIE reports that they do not know how much one of these trucks is going to cost or even how it would be paid for, but it is quite obvious that the taxpayer will end up footing the bill one way or another as we always do.
Some other instances of these surveillance vehicles, which some might characterize as mobile harassment platforms, include another armored truck outfitted with video surveillance equipment in Green Bay, Wisconsin also dubbed the “Armadillo.”
The Green Bay Police Department calls it a “Nuisance Abatement Video Surveillance Vehicle” which they claim will “restore peace and order to neighborhoods that are experiencing social disorder.”
They say the idea came from the Peoria police department and their project was funded partially through donations including a $1,400 donation from Neighbors Against Drugs and the Navarino Neighborhood Association.
This donation – which I would call a lobbying effort – resulted in the Armadillo’s first deployment being the Navarino Neighborhood in front of a house from which problems have allegedly emanated.
What are these problems that so desperately require an armored surveillance truck? Well, Green Bay police say, “Most of the calls involve disturbances and noise complaints which dramatically affect the quality of life in that neighborhood.”
“Police will continue to utilize the Armadillo to address future nuisance properties and assist neighborhoods in restoring peace and order, or in deterring possible drug activity, or other illegal behaviors,” they say.
I find it incredibly absurd that such a measure is taken to combat nothing other than noise complaints. If this keeps up, I wouldn’t be surprised to see officers armed with assault rifles and full body armor responding to complaints dealing with loud music.
It seems that the Armadillo in Peoria has become a blueprint for other departments across the United States with police in Lafayette, Louisiana deploying a “Crime Suppression Surveillance Vehicle,” also called the Armadillo, in their own city.
This Armadillo is also a refurbished armored truck and will be targeting areas which are supposedly known for their drug activity and other crime problems, according to the Associated Press.
Once again, the truck came from Brink’s, although in this case it was donated and originally used by the Lafayette Police Department’s SWAT team.
Jim Craft, the Lafayette Police Chief says he decided to change the truck from a SWAT vehicle to a surveillance platform after Joey Durel, the City-Parish President, sent him a story about the original Armadillo in Peoria.
Lafayette’s Armadillo is outfitted with surveillance cameras and other equipment which were donated by an unnamed local store.
St. Louis, Missouri’s Metro Police Department has jumped on the bandwagon as well, with the deployment of another armored car outfitted with surveillance equipment.
The vehicle, like so many others, was obtained from Brink’s for the sum of $10, just like Peoria.
In addition to all of the high-tech surveillance equipment, the truck is upgraded with “hardening” features like ballistic headlights and is reportedly able to provide 360-degree surveillance of multiple square blocks in real time.
St. Louis Metro PD’s Captain Joseph Speiss says that they plan to use the truck as a so-called Nuisance Abatement Vehicle, not a tactical vehicle, which act as an “in your face” surveillance platform.
Speiss says that it will be mostly used to target “nuisance properties” which “could be a business or it could be a residence. My intention is to look at the properties we’re having the most problems with — the most complaints, calls for service, assault reports, drug activity, and repeated complaints from neighbors.”
He said it is meant to send a clear signal “that we’re aware of the behavior, and we’re not going anywhere.”
However, like I previously mentioned, it also makes it clear to anyone in the vicinity that the business or residence is under constant surveillance and thus makes observers believe that the location is home to criminals and illicit activity, even if it isn’t.
This vehicle allows officers to get around that pesky thing called “probable cause,” as highlighted by Capt. Speiss when he said, “Sometimes you don’t have enough for a search warrant for things like drinking or loud noise, but clearly it’s something nobody wants to live next to.”
Police Magazine makes it clear why these trucks are so popular by writing, “Because officers have yet to establish probable cause to obtain a search warrant, these properties can be troublesome for drug enforcement. The properties are often well known by officers and have been a sore spot with the city’s code-enforcement division that has been documenting neighbor complaints. Once enough documentation has been collected, a cease-and-desist order is filed against the property. If activity continues, the department can issue a summons.”
I find it somewhat troubling that they’re so openly advocating the use of this type of equipment to make an end-run around the legal system, but then again I shouldn’t be surprised in today’s climate where police are treated as somehow above the law and able to murder and brutally assault innocent people with impunity.
These are just a couple brief examples of how this type of technology is becoming a widespread issue across America and coupled with the knowledge of the Pentagon’s 1033 program and the nonsensical deployment of military vehicles to peaceful protests, paints an unpleasant picture of the militarization of domestic law enforcement.
It is quite clear that some companies support this trend, like Brink’s, which has been providing many of the vehicles and other companies which sell them new and seek to profit off of this new law enforcement practice.
Unfortunately, as long as there is money to be made, companies will seek to exploit the market as much as possible and thus I doubt this trend is one which will end any time soon.
Police departments also seem to be taking cues from each other and appear quite happy about their decisions, which further strengthens my suspicion that this is going to become a much more widespread practice.
Once again, I hope that I am wrong and this trend will fizzle out soon without too many of these mobile police harassment platforms plaguing the streets of the United States but unfortunately there are no indications that this is the case.