Amidst Fear of Militancy, County Buys Armored Vehicle
The Lenco BearCat is covered in armored steel a half-inch thick. It has bulletproof glass, gun ports and can carry 10 people in the back. It also cost Montrose County more than a quarter of a million dollars.
“It is expensive, but by the same token, I for one can’t put a value on a human life,” says Montrose County Commissioner Glen Davis.
He and the other commissioners recently gave unanimous approval to purchase the vehicle at the request of the sheriff’s office.
Davis says there's a need for this. Three times in the past few years the sheriff's office needed a BearCat. Each time they borrowed one from neighboring Mesa County and everything ended peacefully.
Davis says borrowing the explosive-resistant vehicle worked in the past, but he’s worried some other community could be borrowing it when they need it.
If that was the case, the City of Montrose has an armored vehicle they're willing to lend out.
“That machine? That’s a whole different animal," says Davis. "It’s possible to penetrate that machine with a .50 caliber. It will not go through walls or doors.”
This kind of heavy equipment is troubling to John Krieger with the American Civil Liberty Union of Colorado.
“When police get these new toys, they tend to want to use them,” says Krieger.
He says the ACLU has seen cases where police departments change. They start serving warrants in the middle of the night with night vision goggles. Normal policing becomes tactical.
“Police," he says, "rather than looking like an agency built to protect and serve a community, they start to look like a military unit that’s occupying a community.”
Commissioner Davis doesn’t agree. He says protecting officer’s lives is paramount.
“Five years ago, if I had told you that people felt they had the right to kill policemen at the rate they’re killing ‘em today, you’d have told me I was out of my head," says Davis.
That perception might be skewed by the recent officer deaths in Mesa and Parker counties. Nationally, officers murdered on duty has dropped steadily since the 70’s. According to NPR, 2013 was the safest year for law enforcement in recorded history.
"Muslims have told us that we're infidels..."
Still, Davis thinks the BearCat will protect deputies. For example, he says, from mass-murdering pot growers.
“I get some crazy person out growing wild marijuana," he says, "and he decides he’ll barricade his self in a rock house and start shooting. I don’t know how many policemen you’d want to lose.”
It’s not just the armed and mentally ill that trouble Davis. He also says the custom built BearCat will help protect against a perceived religious threat.
“Muslims have told us that we’re infidels," he says. "As early as Thomas Jefferson, and I’m sure you know that story, the leathernecks and from the ‘shores of Tripoli’ – that had to do with Muslims."
He’s referencing a war 200 years ago that was about stopping pirates from attacking U.S. ships near North Africa.
“Jefferson had an answer for it," says Davis. "He said go in and kill ‘em. For 150 years, they left the American people alone.”
He's also afraid suicide bombers are getting closer to Montrose County.
“I think you can bury your head in the sand. It gives you a warm fuzzy feeling at night when you go to bed and say ‘Oh well, it can’t happen here.’ ‘Montrose, Colorado, how many people could they kill?’" he says. "I don’t know, a suicide bomber walks into a theater or a school … I don’t know.”
Davis says it’s better to have the armored vehicle than not. If they ever needed it and didn’t have it, he says the press and everyone else would blame law enforcement.
Although the county commissioners approved the request for the vehicle, John Krieger with the ACLU recommends communities have a civilian oversight board that would decide on purchases like the BearCat.
It will be several months before the vehicle is built and shipped to the county sheriff’s office.
Repeated inquires to the Montrose County Sheriff Rick Dunlap went unanswered.