Garbage trucks, really?
Many years ago, I received a draft copy of the city of Medford’s emergency response plan. It included such cheerful things as places with cold storage to turn into temporary morgues and what to do to prevent people from messing with wellheads or substations.
The emergency plan was one of the knee-jerk requirements imposed on local governments just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The idea was to get local governments to think and have plans in place on how they would harden targets within their communities if threatened.
I remember clearly the section that suggested municipalities use plow trucks, dump trucks and garbage trucks as barricades for locations. The idea being that these vehicles are massive and will stop someone from turning their Chevy Malibu into an impromptu battering ram.
I also remember thinking that whoever came up with such an insane plan had never been involved with the purchase of any piece of large equipment. In many cases the buildings having dubious protection by being barricaded with this equipment would cost less to replace than the equipment themselves.
I thought of this while viewing the pictures in the Kenosha News and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of the garbage trucks burning in downtown Kenosha in the aftermath of the protests turned to riots over the police shooting of Jacob Blake Sunday afternoon.
I am reserving judgement on whether the officer involved was justified in shooting a person seven times in the back during the incident, until the full report of the investigation is released. We don’t know what the officer saw on the front seat of the vehicle.
Let us hope that the Department of Criminal Investigations is more forthcoming with information about this investigation than the usual black hole of information they are with other cases which seem to exist in the “under investigation” blanket for long periods of time. It is truly horrifying to see that community destroyed by escalating violence.
What I will weigh in on is the utter stupidity of using public works and garbage removal equipment as impromptu barricades. As someone who has spent countless hours of his professional life sitting through budget meetings where the purchase and replacement of these types of vehicles was being discussed, I feel qualified to weigh in on their non-standard use.
Not only do these vehicles have large fuel tanks turning them into potential explosive risks, as demonstrated in Kenosha, but the starting price of a new low-end garbage truck is around $300,000. Dump trucks and other road building equipment easily have prices approaching $500,000 depending on how they are outfitted.
Not to mention that this is the very equipment you would need to clean up the mess left over by criminal rioters.
In a practical matter, dumping a couple loads of road salt or even black dirt in front of the buildings would have provided more protection than using city vehicles and have the added advantage of being something that most municipalities have on hand.
I have an image in my head of someone in the Kenosha emergency government office excitedly being called into work on Sunday night and shaking the nearly 20 years of dust off their response plan. Perhaps they were thinking this is their chance to finally drive one of those big trucks, just like they have wanted to since they were seven years old. Perhaps it was the same individual who also thought that spraying pepper spray into a crowd including reporters and photographers was a great idea. Considering the city sent out a press release to every media outlet in the state inviting them to the time and place of the meeting, city leaders should have been better prepared for people actually showing up.
Now Gov. Tony Evers has called for another quixotic executive session to deal with police violence and was answered by assembly speaker Robin Vos answer that he would consider a task force to bring recommendations. Given the politics at play, I am not holding my breath for any sweeping reforms to be passed in the foreseeable future.
I think the best that we can all hope for is to pray for a return to common sense and calm so that cooler heads can come together and resolve the issues without further violence and needless destruction.
Brian Wilson is News Editor at The Star News.