MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Does a war machine belong on the streets of Memphis?
The Memphis Police Department got a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP, in December of 2015. It is worth about $1 million, but it was given to MPD for free by the Department of Defense.
WATCH: 360 video inside MPD's 'War Machine'
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It is nearly 20 tons of pure, armored muscle, and is specifically designed by the military to protect soldiers from roadside bombs.
Chantonia Dye lives in Memphis and said, "It looks a little overboard, but it's cool.” Memphian John Stokes added, "It looks like, bad or something, like they're fixing to knock your house down.”
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Lt. Colonel Eddie Bass with the Memphis Police Department explained, "This vehicle is utilized for search and rescue missions... basically when officers are under siege, it's used to go in and rescue them or keep the public from harm.”
MPD removed some military parts and painted it white. Officers said it has only been used once in a rescue situation to get a woman out of a house on Lucille Avenue in March. She was being held hostage by her boyfriend who had shot her and threatened to shoot police.
Other than that, MPD told FOX13 they bring the MRAP out to show it off at events like the Sweet 16 at the FedEx Forum.
Officers call it another good resource to have for public safety.
The MRAP clearly sat towering above peaceful protesters at Graceland last August, and that is when some Memphians said it really becomes a problem. Jeremiah Stauffer said, "If it was used for rescue, maybe there is a value in that... but if it's used for enforcement, then I think it changes the tone.”
Fergus Nolan agrees. He works with the local activist group, Coalition of Concerned Citizens "[It] shouldn't have been out there in the first place," he said.
Nolan said the MRAP is not necessary, and MPD has been doing just fine without it. "What message is this sending to the people of Memphis? We can mess you up, or we are better armed then you are. We can intimidate you.”
It all started back in 1997 when the Department of Defense started a program authorizing the Pentagon to send excess military equipment, like armored vehicles, to law enforcement agencies for free. Supporters of the program said it strengthens local agencies and allows the U.S. to get a second use of existing equipment.
After the 2014 riots in Ferguson, Missouri that stemmed from the deadly police shooting of Michael Brown, former President Obama started yanking some of the military vehicles and equipment from law enforcement. The reason was concerns about the militarization of the police fueling a heavy handed response.
"Memphis doesn't need an occupied force. We just don't need that," Nolan insisted. "We are peaceful people to a large extent.”
While nothing like what happened in Ferguson has happened in Memphis, and MPD told us the MRAP was at Graceland only because they expected a large crowd and wanted to be prepared... some still wonder whether military might in Memphis is protecting the public or sending the wrong message.
"We believe it is to save lives, simply to save lives," Lt. Colonel Bass said.
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