Rock County, Janesville, Beloit agencies considering buying armored truck

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

— Police safety was a big selling point.

The thing that tipped the scales for the Beloit City Council was the way the BearCat’s price tag could be split three ways.

The Janesville and Beloit police departments along with the Rock County Sheriff’s Office have drafted an agreement to jointly purchase a BearCat, an armored truck used for SWAT team deployment.

The purchase order was issued this week, Beloit Police Chief Norm Jacobs said. The vehicle costs $160,000. According to a draft agreement between agencies, Beloit would pay $80,000 for the truck. Janesville and Rock County would each pay $40,000.

The agreement is not a done deal, but if things work out, the BearCat could be in the county late this year.

Here’s what the three agency leaders had to say about the purchase:

Q: Why do local law enforcement agencies want a BearCat?

Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore: “First of all, this is an important piece of equipment for active shooter incidents. We only need to look over to Oak Creek or Aurora, Colo., to see how these pieces of equipment become very important.”

SWAT teams could use the BearCat to respond to active shooter incidents or planned high-risk search warrant execution.

“It allows our SWAT teams to safely enter an area that’s dangerous, or it can help us removing victims from an area that is dangerous.”

Q: Describe a local incident in which law enforcement agents could have used a BearCat.

Moore: In some SWAT responses, team members have entered the area covertly. With a BearCat, team members could get much closer to a dangerous person more quickly than without the equipment.

In a Fond du Lac incident in which an officer was killed, police found themselves in the lower level of a home with civilians. A shooter was upstairs. They could not escape without being shot at from above.

Police backed up a BearCat to a door, and the people trapped downstairs were removed safely.

Q: How will the three agencies share the vehicle?

Jacobs: Beloit will house and maintain the vehicle. The department will keep a schedule of planned uses. For example, the Janesville Police Department could take the BearCat to Dane County for training.

“It’s going to be a shared unit. Any of these agencies can get the unit at any time for any length of time.”

Q: If the BearCat were housed in Beloit, it could take 20 minutes or more to get to an emergency in Janesville. Is that effective?

Moore: “I don’t see that as being a problem.”

When the SWAT team is called in, it could take that long to get team members assembled and geared up. If a situation is urgent, the BearCat could be mobilized while the team is getting ready.

Some SWAT events are not a surprise.

“If we have a high risk search warrant, we’re planning for it for hours.”

Q: How will you pay for it?

Jacobs: “In this day and age, it just seems to be that the best way to handle a large purchase like this is a collaborative effort. When we brought this to our (city) council, I know that was the big selling point.”

The Beloit City Council approved the purchase based on the draft memorandum of understanding that includes cost sharing with Janesville and Rock County.

Rock County Sheriff Robert Spoden: In no case would local tax dollars be used to buy the vehicle. All three agencies would use money from the seizure and sale of homes, cars or cash owned by convicted drug dealers or other criminals.

The money may not be used to supplement an agency’s operating budget, Spoden said. For example, it could not be used to buy gasoline for vehicles or to do routine maintenance. It could not be used to buy replacement squad cars.

The Rock County Sheriff’s Office has about $200,000 in such funds from cases worked in 2012, Spoden said.

Moore: The money will not be tax dollars from Janesville residents. The Janesville Police Department has been notified it will receive seized funds in 2012, although the money is not yet in the bank.

Q: Could an armored vehicle raise the level of anxiety in incidents? Might that be unsafe for the public?

Jacobs: “We hope it would raise the level of anxiety of the people we are trying to impress. As far as the law-abiding citizens in the community, I don’t think they will be uncomfortable with it. The vehicle is the size of a Humvee (or a Hummer, if you are a civilian) but longer.

“It’s a large vehicle, but it’s not a tank. It has rubber tires and can be driven around the community.”

Last updated: 5:05 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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