8 ways to overcome public opposition and acquire an armored vehicle

When the public, the press and politicians say police don’t need tanks, these strategies can help you make that critical purchase


This feature is part of our new PoliceOne Digital Edition, a quarterly supplement to PoliceOne.com that brings a sharpened focus to some of the most challenging topics facing police chiefs and police officers everywhere. To read all of the articles included in the Summer 2016 issue, click here.

Article updated on November 15, 2017.

By Dan Marcou, PoliceOne Columnist

A police agency is looking to purchase an armored vehicle. The opposition quickly shouts, “Police don’t need tanks!”

An armored vehicle known as a Bearcat blocks the road to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge at an FBI checkpoint outside of Burns, Ore., Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Rebecca Boone)
An armored vehicle known as a Bearcat blocks the road to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge at an FBI checkpoint outside of Burns, Ore., Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Rebecca Boone)

This mantra rises from both ends of the political spectrum when an agency begins its efforts to acquire an armored rescue vehicle. The clamor and discourse may become so loud that the voices of a few will successfully block your acquisition with a barrage of misinformation.

This discourse can be countered by your law enforcement agency by following a careful strategy for successful acquisition. Here are eight keys to keep in mind when proposing the acquisition of an armored vehicle.

1. Stay positive, persistent and consistent

By staying positive when delivering your message, it will be better received by those who are undecided on the issue.

Persistence is absolutely required. It is entirely probable that it may take multiple budget cycles to achieve approval to purchase such a vehicle, especially when it is contested. You may even have to wait until a new mayor, county board or city administrator is elected or appointed.

Sadly, you may have to wait until a tragedy happens to succeed in your efforts.

It is imperative that your team’s performance remains consistently high-quality when you are disappointed in any contractual or budgetary requests. This allows you to bargain from a position of strength.

In short, stay positive, persistent and consistent, even when it is much easier to be something else.

2. Shine a light on the world we live in

Be truthful about the threats that are out there. Many high-profile cases around the country can be used to illustrate the value of an armored rescue vehicle. Examples include mass shootings in San Bernardino, California; Fort Hood, Texas; and Aurora, Colorado.

Additionally, you can point out incidents like Paris, Beslan and Mumbai as international examples. These will be less helpful with the “It can’t happen here” crowd, but they will serve to explain your point of view, because you truly believe it can happen here. And if the police are not ready to meet these impending threats, who will be?

Accumulate examples locally of circumstances where an armored vehicle could have been used with effect. If the events were high profile, all the better. What may weigh in even stronger in the minds of community members who are on the fence are situations where agencies (especially agencies your size) avoided tragedies because officers were equipped to respond to armed belligerents, while protected by the right equipment. 

3. Explain that it is indeed a rescue vehicle

Educate and inform your community members and leaders of the facts about the vehicle. Abraham Lincoln once said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth they can be depended to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the facts.”

Tell a few of the many stories of incidents where armored rescue vehicles have saved lives. Here are a few that were reported on PoliceOne.com in the past years:

  • Feb. 2, 2011: The Aurora, Colorado, area was inundated with 20 inches of snow, making roads impassable. During this crisis, motorists found themselves trapped by the arctic conditions. Police officers in a BearCat were able to rescue 108 stranded motorists. 
  • March 6, 2012: In Harrisonburg, Pennsylvania, the York County Quick Response Team and the Dauphin County Sheriff’s Office deployed at the scene of a barricaded gunman. The BearCat was moved into a position where officers were able to push in two windows. The man was taken into custody after he was shot with less-lethal munitions.
  • April 14, 2013: The Rutheford County Sheriff’s SWAT team, from Tennessee, were able to evacuate a neighborhood in Smyrna after a barricaded suspect opened fire, endangering all. One disabled resident was safely removed from the kill zone. Officers then saved the suspect from his own death by subduing him with less-lethal munitions. 
  • March 14, 2014: A suspect opened fire throughout a neighborhood and specifically at officers inside their BearCat. Officers of the Bakersfield PD SWAT team, from California, were able to rescue and evacuate 60 citizens in the line of fire.

Click here for more examples and share these examples with your citizenry.

4. Explain that it is not a tank

When your opposition shouts, “We don’t need a tank here,” you must educate them about the differences between a tank and an armored rescue vehicle.

Use photographic evidence comparing the difference between a tank and the specific rescue vehicle you hope to attain. The fact is that a tank is a vehicle designed primarily for destruction. An armored rescue vehicle is designed primarily for protection.

5. Keep a low profile

Fight the urge to take team photos in belligerent, tough-guy poses. They will be used against you. It is important for special team members to always emphasize the truth of law enforcement that is affixed to nearly every squad in the nation. Like all cops, SWAT teams exist to “serve and protect” under the most difficult circumstances.

6. Agree to multiple-agency use

It will be easier to obtain such a vehicle when multiple agencies agree to fund, maintain and share a vehicle. It is a big-ticket item and could be used by multiple agencies. Being able to defer the cost is a strong selling point.

7. Present proof of life

With very little research you can locate agencies your size that will happily share photographic proof of the life that has been prolonged because of these vehicles. One excellent example of this has been shared with PoliceOne courtesy of the La Crosse, Wisconsin, County Sheriff’s Department. They have provided photos of their vehicle as well as the Dane County Sheriff’s Department’s Vehicle, which were both hit deliberately and repeatedly by a barricaded gunman firing from an armored personal fortress in the woods of central Wisconsin.

In spite of this gunman’s best efforts – and because of these BearCats – no officers were injured. By using their armored vehicles, the officers involved were able to tactically maneuver to a point where they could subdue the suspect with special impact munitions. The would-be cop killer was taken into custody without serious injury to anyone, including him.

“It is a vital piece of equipment that saves lives. It is used to protect the public and police, and suspects as well,” said Sgt. Mike Valencia of the La Crosse County Sheriff’s Department, who was one of the many officers protected by the BearCat during this action. “I am one of many who are still walking around today because of its use.”

8. Make your closing argument

Throughout history, police officers have run toward the sound of gunfire and will continue to do so. The wall in Washington contains thousands of names of officers who have fallen to that gunfire. How can we ask our officers to continue to run toward this danger unprotected when this technology is available? We owe it to those men and women who risk all to protect all. The bottom line is that BearCats and other armored vehicles don’t take lives – they save them.

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