U.S. police departments deploying heavy armor

The Associated Press

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — After six people were shot in the city's Homewood neighborhood, Pittsburgh police rolled in with a 20-ton armored truck with a blast-resistant body, armored rotating roof hatch and gunports.

No arrests were made during the sweep in the $250,000 armored vehicle, paid for with Homeland Security money. But the show of force sent a message.

Whether it was the right message is a matter of debate.

With scores of police agencies buying armored vehicles at Homeland Security expense, some criminal justice experts warn that their use in fighting crime could do more harm than good.

When the armored truck moved through the Homewood neighborhood late last year, residents came out of their homes to take a look. Some were offended.

''This is really the containment of crime, not the elimination, because to eliminate it you have to address some of the social problems,'' complained Rashad Byrdsong, a community activist.

Law enforcement agencies say the growing use of the vehicles, a practice that also has its defenders in the academic field of criminal justice, helps ensure police have the tools they need to deal with hostage situations, heavy gunfire and acts of terrorism.

''We live on being prepared for 'what if?' '' said Pittsburgh Sgt. Barry Budd, a memer of the SWAT team.

Critics say that the appearance of armored vehicles may only increase tensions by making residents feel as if they are under siege.

Most departments do not have ''a credible, justifiable reason for buying these kinds of vehicles,'' but find them appealing because they ''tap into that subculture within policing that finds the whole military special-operations model culturally intoxicating,'' said Peter Kraska, an expert on police militarization.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press.

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