McHenry County's armored vehicle used for safety of officers, public

JOHNSBURG – The county’s mine-resistant ambush-protected military vehicle raised eyebrows earlier this month when a woman who threatened to shoot herself was barricaded inside a Johnsburg home, eliciting a response from the area’s SWAT team.

The MRAP has been used fewer than 10 times in the past year, McHenry County Sheriff’s Deputy Sandra Rogers said. Seeing the county’s MRAP vehicle parked nearby usually means SWAT officers are responding to a call where a weapon might be present, or officers need the vehicle space to evacuate the area, Rogers said.

“It’s not just for us, but it keeps the public safe, as well, because it has enough room in the back where we can get other people out,” Rogers said.

The county’s MRAP is only one item on a long list of surplus acquired by police departments through a federal program.

On Jan. 1, the county’s multijurisdictional SWAT team responded to the 2000 block of Grandview Drive, where a woman had threatened to shoot herself. Traffic through the area was shut down for several hours while police navigated the situation in below-freezing temperatures.

Although officers never found a gun, a SWAT response, including use of the MRAP vehicle, is appropriate when responding to a threat with a weapon, Rogers said.

“We also needed other people out there because it was just so cold,” Rogers said. “We had to switch people off in short intervals of time.”

Departments prefer to bring out the MRAP sooner rather than later, but not until they’ve considered alternative solutions, including whether a person might be more responsive to negotiation tactics.

Despite the intimidation of a military vehicle and a team of armed officers, a large police turnout usually is enough to coax a potentially armed or suicidal person out of a home, Rogers said.

“Seeing that type of equipment – generally we’ve had the response that people just give up,” Rogers said. “They come out.”

Officers typically wouldn’t roll out the vehicle for a suicidal person unless they have reason to believe that the person has a weapon, Rogers said.

“Unfortunately, in this day and age – with officers being killed by responding to such calls – we would take it very seriously,” Rogers said.

The threat of someone opening fire at officers was realized Oct. 16, 2014, when sheriff’s deputies responded to a domestic dispute at a home along Northeast Shore Drive in Holiday Hills. As officers approached, a gunman shot and wounded two deputies. Officers used the MRAP vehicle that day to evacuate people in the neighborhood.

They also used the vehicle in June 2017 when responding to an armed robbery at a Marengo pharmacy shortly after a major explosion damaged dozens of homes, which led officers on a three-hour manhunt.

Two people ultimately were arrested in connection with the robbery, and they immediately were taken to the hospital to make sure they didn’t overdose on stolen drugs.

In the case of potentially suicidal people, the situation typically is transformed from a police matter to one of mental health once the person surrenders, Rogers said. From there, he or she is taken to a nearby hospital and assessed by medical staff.

“As much as we want to get the crime stuff resolved, their health and well-being is a priority,” Rogers said.

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