If you’ve spent much time watching “Andy Griffith Show” reruns you’ll remember the episode in which Deputy Barney Fife bought a motorcycle and sidecar for the department. The presumption being that Mayberry’s sheriff’s department needed a motorcycle to keep up with the times and other departments. Of course, no sooner did they get the motorcycle than did it cause trouble and cost money.
This month the city of Wolfforth proudly unveiled its new (slightly used) five ton mobile command vehicle. Now at first glance, we might ask what business does a west Lubbock County town with a population of 3,670 have buying a mobile command vehicle? There’s no crime wave in Wolfforth requiring a mobile emergency operations center. The Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office has a state-of-the-art mobile command vehicle intended to service agencies across the South Plains. To date, busting a teen with a joint in his car has not required calling out the Sheriff’s Office mobile command vehicle. And, we’re thankful to say, that’s about the extent of crime fighting necessary in Wolfforth, America. We’re Mayberry and proud to be so.
The fact is, Mayberry didn’t need a motorcycle with a sidecar and Wolfforth doesn’t need a mobile command vehicle. And if it had purchased one, we’d be highly critical. But this four wheel drive mobile police fantasy was free. Like Barney’s sidecar, it is a piece of military surplus equipment. Obtained as surplus property through Section 1033 of the National Defense Authorization Act, Wolfforth’s five ton mobile command vehicle has only about 1,000 hours and 2,400 miles and came with a new paint job. All it cost the city was the price of the fuel expended to go get it. A bargain at twice the price. At least until it needs new tires at an estimated cost of $15,000. Or until they equip it with radio communications gear that costs tens of thousands of dollars. After all, a mobile command vehicle with only a cellphone is just a high-priced travel trailer. Then it becomes less of a bargain for a town that struggles with basic infrastructure issues such as sewer and water. Are there any military surplus sewer systems in that 1033 program? Probably not.
Anticipated uses are, well….we can’t really anticipate a use because no one can cite anything in the past that required this little burg to have a remote emergency operations center. After all, Wolfforth is only three miles long and, at its widest, two miles across. But fear not citizens, should the need arise, and if the ultra-modern Sheriff’s Office mobile operations center already equipped to serve Lubbock and fourteen other counties is unavailable, then Wolfforth is prepared with its very own military surplus five ton mobile operations vehicle.
We recall as teenagers the admonition our parents gave when we set off in a group: “remember who you are” they said. If there is a cautionary tone in our tale it is here. We see an increasing trend towards the militarization of our police forces. This is due in part to laws that have created a drug war we cannot possibly win; we are out funded and outmanned. Another reason is that when there exist too many law enforcement people with too many toys they find something to do and that’s not always a good thing. The Wolfforth Police Department has long served its citizens well with courtesy and with a knowledge of what it is: a small town police force. Let’s hope they remember who they are.