2013-06-07 / Community

Simi PD purchasing new armored vehicle

By Carissa Marsh

Kiss that old, clunky “tank” goodbye: the Simi Valley Police Department’s SWAT team will be getting a modern, stronger and more maneuverable armored vehicle.

“The armored vehicle (we have now)—that term is not appropriate,” City Councilmember Glen Becerra said. “With today’s high-caliber weapons that are available to the public, that armored vehicle from my understanding is not bullet-proof; it doesn’t provide the level of safety that a vehicle like that (should).

“It offers very little—if any— protection.”

Police Chief Mitch McCann acknowledged that’s true.

“In the ’50s or ’60s when that vehicle was designed, it was good; we would have been safe against Bugsy Siegel,” he joked. “But now things have changed over time so this is really going to help our officers.”

On Monday, the City Council authorized a request from the Simi Valley Police Department to use $308,000 from the forfeited assets fund—which does not come out of the city’s general fund—to purchase needed law enforcement equipment items, among them a Lenco BearCat armored vehicle.

The city maintains a forfeited assets fund so that it can participate in both the federal and state asset seizure programs.

In July 2011, Simi PD assigned a detective to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Southwest Border Task Force. The department assigned another detective to a second DEA task force this past March.

By participating in these task forces, the department is more easily able to call upon the resources of the DEA for local, higher-profile narcotics cases and to share in the assets seized under the federal asset forfeiture program.

Basically, it’s a setup where crime does pay: Criminals get caught and the police reap the rewards, using the seized money to modernize equipment and enhance law enforcement capabilities at no cost to the city.

“You’ve been reading about these big (drug) busts the past couple years. It’s through the hard work and diligence of our officers that we have this money,” Mayor Bob Huber said as several SWAT officers in the audience listened.

In December, the department got the OK from city leaders to spend $57,500 in seized assets—$ 35,000 of which went toward purchasing new equipment for the SWAT team and allowing for the addition of four new team members.

Currently, Simi PD has almost $690,000 available in the forfeited assets fund.

McCann said that after reviewing administrative, investigative and patrol functions to determine where the most immediate needs are, the department decided to use $290,000 to purchase a BearCat rescue vehicle and $18,000 to modify a utility truck.

The Lenco BearCat will provide Simi PD with a “modern, purpose-built rescue vehicle,” a staff report accompanying the funding request said.

The BearCat is widely used by law enforcement agencies throughout the nation, including the Oxnard and Ventura police departments and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.

McCann said Simi PD is the only large agency in the county that doesn’t own a BearCat.

“When I came here I quickly realized we had some of the best SWAT officers in the state of California but some of our equipment was antiquated,” said the chief, who worked on the SWAT team at the Beverly Hills Police Department, his previous gig.

“The vehicles (Simi SWAT officers) had used to protect themselves were really not sufficient for this day and age,” McCann continued. “So fortunately through our asset forfeiture program, we’re going to now be able to purchase a vehicle that will keep them safe and will also save the city money (in maintenance costs).”

The BearCat will primarily be used by Simi PD’s special weapons and tactics team but would also be available to anyone who receives the proper training to deploy in an emergency.

The SWAT team currently uses a surplus armored vehicle that was converted from military to police use about two decades ago. It has more than 250,000 miles on it.

“The vehicle is 30 years old and is very difficult to maneuver through residential streets,” a staff report said. “Although it is capable of carrying needed equipment for SWAT team use, it cannot pull reinforced doors or gates and its armor is not capable of stopping many rifle rounds.”

Built by

Lenco Armored

Vehicles in Pittsfield, Mass., the BearCat is specifically constructed for law enforcement use and designed to be driven on public streets without the need for escort vehicles. It can carry most of the equipment needed by police and, as shown in field tests, will protect the occupants from largecaliber rifle ammunition.

The current rescue vehicle used by Simi PD is a military conversion of a V-150, which does not have the same high level of ballistic protection as the BearCat and requires escort vehicles to drive on city streets since it was designed to operate in an off-road environment.

The V-150 can also be dangerous for SWAT personnel to work around since it offers poor visibility for the driver and there is no protection from the underside of the vehicle or from its large wheels and tires.

“In addition, the BearCat can carry personnel who are then able, in full SWAT gear, to enter and exit the vehicle expeditiously and safely,” the staff report read. “This is not possible with the V-150.”

Simi PD will donate the former SWAT armored car and use $18,000 from the forfeited assets fund to modify a utility truck that Ventura County Fire donated to the police department in March.

Instead of using the 30-yearold armored car to carry SWAT team equipment, the upgraded truck will be used for that function.

The truck was previously used as a paramedic response vehicle and needs to be modified to securely carry the SWAT team’s specialized equipment and painted before being put into service.

Local machine shops will make the modifications.

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