REDWOOD CITY -- The new armored SWAT vehicle that Redwood City proudly displayed during its annual Fourth of July parade Friday raised some eyebrows.
So did a picture that the police department posted on its Facebook page of the black, 30-ton behemoth officially called a MRAP, or Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle.
"MRAP!!! That's what I rode in when I was in Afghanistan! Looks weird in civilian roads. But then again, anything to protect our peace officers," someone posted on the police department's Facebook page.
Another post asked why a local police department is becoming so militarized. "I do not understand why our cities need armored vehicles ... are we living in police state or are we free ..... just wondering."
The $750,000 military vehicle Redwood City received July 1 was a gift from the federal government, according to police department officials who found themselves fielding questions about why they need such a massive vehicle.
"To some, the vehicle may seem excessive, however the Department could not select the form and size of a vehicle that it ultimately was able to acquire at no cost," the police department stated in a post on its Facebook page.
Deputy Police Chief Gary Kirby told the Bay Area News Group that the SWAT vehicle could be used in such emergencies as school and workplace shootings or incidents involving known or potential explosives.
The vehicle could also be used during "high-risk search warrant operations, such as those involving firearms, violent gang members, narcotics cases involving firearms, explosives, etc.," Kirby wrote in an email Tuesday.
Kirby declined to cite a past emergency in which the SWAT vehicle could have been used, saying that would require "discussing police tactics."
Redwood City Mayor Jeffrey Gee acknowledged his first reaction to the armored vehicle was that it's "a little large ... considering the size of our city," but added that he trusts the judgment of City Manager Bob Bell and police officials.
"I'm not a public safety expert," Gee said in a phone interview Tuesday. "If this is something they need in the event of an emergency, I want the police department to be equipped."
Redwood City applied for the MRAP vehicle through a federal program that offers equipment deemed as surplus to local police agencies at no cost. According to news reports, including a February 2014 Wall Street Journal article, cities across the country have been receiving the explosive-resistant vehicles used in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
Paul George, director of the Palo Alto-based Peninsula Peace and Justice Center, said he finds it troubling that Redwood City jumped on the bandwagon.
"With all this war surplus flowing into our cities and towns, it's a real concern," George said. "It seems to be slowly changing the local police department that are supposed to be part of the community. It separates them and turns them more into a military force."