MSNBC asked in a recent article “Why do America’s Police Need an Armored Tank?” The answer to that question is they don’t, but when someone else is footing the bill, why not.
The fact is that most fatal shootings of police officers occur while responding to calls, such as burglary or domestic violence calls and during traffic stops. Unless the police plan on responding to calls for help by driving their minitanks through the front door, an armored vehicle will do nothing to prevent these deaths. But, this fact has not stopped police departments across the country from purchasing armored vehicles.
The Lenco Bearcat is often the armored vehicle of choice for police departments. They cost almost a quarter of a million dollars. The sheriff in Garfield County, Colorado, Lou Vallejo, justified his recent purchase of a Lenco Bearcat by stating that “there is NO price tag you can put on the life of a police officer who is out there protecting you.” Well that is easy for you to say Sheriff Vallejo, since it is not your money being spent on this fancy toy. If you really believe that there is no price tag you can put on the life of a police officer then why don’t you pony up from your own personal funds?
Between 2000 and 2009, 29 police officers were killed during a “tactical situation” such as a barricaded suspect, hostage situation, or high risk entry. It is possible that some of these officer’s deaths may have been prevented by an armored vehicle, but it is just as likely that not performing a “high risk entry” in the first place would save more lives, and not just officers lives, but the lives of innocent bystanders. If Sheriff Vellejo was really interested in protecting lives he would spend less time defending his 250,000 dollar chunk of metal and more time insisting that his colleagues refrain from introducing violence into an otherwise non-violent situation. But, when other people are carrying the cost, bureaucrats such as Sheriff Vellejo have little to no incentive to use resources or personal in the most cost effective manner. Violence is expensive but who cares when someone else not only pays for it, but has no choice but to pay for it.
Of course, cost is not the only concern people should have regarding armored police vehicles. In 2010 there were 700 SWAT team “high risk entries” that involved serving a search warrant for drugs in just one state. As the police become more militarized we inevitability see more and more inappropriate use of SWAT raids. Emboldened with a new armored toy, the police will surely want to find reasons to take it out of the garage. We can expect more violence, not less.
In just the last couple decades we have gone from Sheriff Andy to heavily armed police officers in full tactical gear. Now with a Lenco Bearcat rolling down the street, the police will look no different than if an army was rolling through town. Do you feel safer?