Do we really need to spend $200,000 for an armored vehicle to be used by the Lodi Police Department SWAT team?
When we first heard about this idea, we were skeptical.
After all, there is much written now about the militarization of city police departments, and a fair amount of hand-wringing, too. Are the men and women sworn to protect and serve their community becoming hardened urban and suburban warriors? Are personal liberties eroding in favor of extreme security measures, including armored wagons rolling through our streets as drones hover above?
And weren’t we, just a few years ago, embracing community oriented policing, with a new emphasis on the old-fashioned: Officers walking a beat and talking with folks and getting to know the neighborhood?
How do you reach out to citizens from behind the bullet-resistant windshield of heavily armored vehicle?
Lodi Police Chief Mark Helms recently gave us some valuable perspective on this proposal.
First of all, the vehicle, known as a BATT, Ballistics Armored Tactical Transport, would be paid for by the Lodi Police Foundation, not taxpayers. The vehicle was requested by SWAT officers themselves, convinced it could help them do their jobs and perhaps save lives.
Also relevant is the fact that BATT would be a replacement vehicle, not some kind of ominous Black Ops expansion of the police department fleet.
For a number of years, the police department has owned a former armored car that was donated and clumsily adapted for police work. That vehicle is cramped, slow and only lightly armored. (The BATT’s armored skin can stop .50-caliber bullets and has a blast mitigating floor. It can hold up to 12 geared officers and hit 80 mph.)
Helms points out the BATT could give officers more security in serving warrants and doing searches. For instance, it might be equipped with a telescoping arm that could actually deliver high-risk warrants to the door of a dangerous ex-con.
The BATT vehicle could prove especially pivotal for incidents such as school shootings.
It used to be that a live shooter incident demanded a sometimes-cumbersome “surround and contain” process that could stretch into many long minutes.
“Meanwhile, the shooter would continue shooting,” Helms points out.
Now, the goal is a rapid response, with officers entering a building to locate and stop the shooter as soon as possible.
The new BATT vehicle would help with that, Helms said, since the big machine could roll right up to the door of a classroom or store or restaurant and allow direct and safer access for officers to go in after the culprit.
It’s not clear how much maintenance and operating costs will be over time, though Helms said the vehicle would probably be used on a very limited basis.
And as for the suggestion of the SWAT wagon reflecting a newer, less-gentle police department?
“It will be there only if we need it,” Helms said. “This is not something we plan to use patrolling the streets of Lodi.”
We don’t have a clear sense that the new BATT will be used any more than the old armored car sitting behind the police department, which has been rarely deployed.
Still, the idea of a $200,000 armored vehicle for the police department, with its ability to shield officers and potentially saves lives, seems far more plausible based on the chief’s explanation.
Sadly, Lodi is not Mayberry, if it ever was. And the idea of Andy and Barney keeping us safe with a blend of common sense and down-home intuition is, alas, an entertaining fiction.
“Times have changed,” Helms said. “We see violent people arming themselves with weapons and technology we didn’t see 25 or 30 years ago. We must keep up.”