Riots in Missouri over the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager have sparked a nationwide backlash over what many people see as law enforcement becoming too militarized. They say officers in military gear and machinery send a wrong message by promoting fear in the very people they're supposed to protect and serve. But South Dakota agencies tasked with responding to emergencies say their equipment is vital to saving lives.
Much of the equipment available to city and county first-responders comes through federal grants from the Department of Homeland Security. That includes the quarter-million dollar Mobile Incident Command Center. For the past six years, it's been the go-to vehicle when emergencies arise.
The Mobile Incident Command Center is the Cadillac of Minnehaha County's fleet of emergency vehicles.
"Right now, if we get a SWAT callout, it's going," Minnehaha County Emergency Management Assistant Director Doug Blomker said.
The mobile command center features state-of-the-art work stations with wireless Internet.
"This is the place where the worker bees basically are," Blomker said.
From here, those worker bees get first-responders to make a bee-line to the scene of an emergency.
"I can say I need guys here, I need people here, we're concerned because this storm went through this area so that's the affected area," Blomker said.
Another feature of the command center is an outdoor camera mounted on top of a 20-foot tall mast that gives people inside the command center a bird's-eye-view of their surroundings.
"The commander can look in here, they can turn the camera, they can zoom in and they can see it right from here, what's going on," Blomker said.
Some people may find all these bells and whistles an alarming overreach by local agencies. But Blomker says it's important to keep on the cutting edge of emergency response.
"If something goes wrong, then people will say then, why couldn't you do more? As technology and times change, we need better tools to manage those types of things," Blomker said.
Blomker says equipment such as the mobile command center is not intended to be a tool of intimidation. At times, the vehicle has had a very public presence during non-emergencies. For instance, it was stationed last month during JazzFest at Yankton Trail Park.