FARMINGTON — To the public, the $250,000 Lenco BearCat appears to be an overkill in security. But to officers, it is the equipment that can help them all go home to their families at the end of the day.
“If it prevents one officer from getting killed, or (makes possible) rescuing or protecting one innocent person, then it has done its job,” said Davis County Sheriff’s Capt. Arnold Butcher.
“What price tag do you want to put on that?”
“It’s just an all-around public safety vehicle,” said Davis County Sheriff Todd Richardson.
The black armored tactical assault vehicle, which appears intimidating and somewhat overwhelming, was used Feb. 25 to stop the truck driven by Brett Max Knight, 33, who led police from multiple agencies on a high-speed chase along Interstate 15.
Knight was killed when he was shot by an officer after his truck was brought to a stop near Kaysville following a PIT maneuver done by the BearCat. The Davis County Critical Incident Response Team, which includes detectives from every Davis County police agency, is handling the investigation into the shooting.
Since the BearCat arrived at the sheriff’s office about 18 months ago, it has been used by law enforcement agencies in the Top of Utah to help with arrests, bomb threats and standoffs. It also can be used when there is a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, Richardson said.
Funds for the vehicle and for the training of officers to use the vehicle came from Homeland Security budgets.
Butcher said the SWAT teams of the sheriff’s office, Bountiful police and Layton police each have at least two certified, trained drivers who are allowed to drive the BearCat.
The 9-ton vehicle is equipped with military-grade armor and bullet-proof windows that can withstand shots from .50-caliber bullets, Butcher said. It also has 10 gun ports inside and an armored turret on top, so a deputy can look at what is going on outside of the vehicle while using the turret’s 400-pound top as a shield.
With tires that weigh close to 300 pounds each and that stand almost 3 feet tall, the BearCat can be used on almost any terrain, even if the tires go flat, Butcher said.
A battering ram is also part of the truck’s equipment, and it was used in September to break a window at a house in West Point, where a man had barricaded himself and threatened to shoot officers, Richardson said.
Hooks on the front, the top and on the back allow officers to connect ropes or chains to an object that may hinder them from entering a building, Butcher said.
The truck started out as a Ford F500 and then was taken to the Lenco company in Pittsfield, Mass., where it was converted into a steel truck with heavy doors, along with seating for 10 inside, as well as running boards on the outside so officers can hang on while the vehicle is moving.
Because none of the windows can be opened, it has its own ventilation system. It is 18 1/2 feet long, 8 feet wide and 8 feet tall.
It also has a stepping stool inside for “short people like me” to see outside of the turret when it is open, said Butcher, who is 5 feet, 6 inches tall.
Butcher said the public-address system inside the truck allows the driver to negotiate with a person who may be holding a gun or to announce instructions to residents in case of a natural disaster.
Butcher went to Massachusetts to learn about the truck.
The first time he drove it “was very intimidating because it was so huge and tall,” Butcher said.
But after he drove it, he was impressed.
“It’s an incredible machine,” he said.
Davis County was the first in Utah to get a BearCat. The Unified Police Department in Salt Lake County recently purchased a BearCat.