published Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Ringgold adds 2 military Humvees to police fleet

Ringgold, Ga., Police Chief Dan Bilbrey has added a former military Humvee vehicle to his service fleet at no cost to taxpayers.
Ringgold, Ga., Police Chief Dan Bilbrey has added a former military Humvee vehicle to his service fleet at no cost to taxpayers.
Photo by Tim Barber.

RINGGOLD, Ga. — As Police Chief Dan Bilbrey peers through the bulletproof windshield of the black and white Humvee on Wednesday afternoon, cars slow and people stare at the word "POLICE" freshly painted on the hood.

The department's two decked-out black and white Humvees will be used as 4-wheel-drive vehicles in emergencies and at parades, local events and schools.

But the pair of military surplus Humvees added to the Ringgold police force last week have provoked a local commotion in the town of 3,500. Some question the need for the six-ton steel vehicles at a time when money is tight.

"Everybody is broke, and they are riding around in [Humvees]. That doesn't make sense," said Joshua Ware, a local roofer.

Bilbrey said since the vehicles were free and they will only be used in special circumstances, they won't be a financial burden on the department. He instead sees the Humvees as a way to be prepared in any emergency.

A $3,000 private grant paid for upgrades -- including blue lights and safety equipment. Rick Worley & Son Automotive donated supplies and labor for the paint job, Bilbrey said.

The police department will pay for the fuel. The diesel-powered Humvees get about 10 miles per gallon. Police budgeted about $2,100 a month for fuel for the whole department.

Police are also expected to maintain the vehicles, Bilbrey said, in case the military needs them back.

The Humvees could be an asset to the community in emergencies but they are not a necessity, local officials said.

"I don't know if we need them at all," said Ringgold Councilman Nick Millwood. "[But] crazy things do happen."

In Catoosa County, Maj. Gary Sisk said he welcomes Ringgold's upgrade. The vehicles would be helpful during disasters such as the April 2011 tornadoes that devastated the community, he said.

Sisk said the sheriff's office found it cheaper to use four-wheel-drive vehicles in emergencies and got rid of its two military trucks because of the cost of upkeep.

Ringgold isn't the only local department with Humvees. In Walker County, Sheriff Steve Wilson said his fleet has three, but he can't think of a time when police needed the vehicles in an emergency.

"We use them mostly for shows, at fairs, children at schools and promotional events," he said.

Meanwhile, when Randy Corbitt, who works at a local auto parts store, saw the police Humvees roar across the road earlier this week, he thought it was the coolest thing he had ever seen. He said he likes the idea of his local department being equipped for any emergency.

"To me the good outweighs the expense," he said.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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