Chariots under fire

     Visiting the Web sites of various armored vehicle manufacturers and checking out the images of their products in action is an unexpectedly enthralling experience. In one video, viewers see the B.E.A.R, a huge armored response vehicle manufactured by Lenco, completely demolishing a structure (where an alleged cop killer was hiding out) as if the place were made of paper and glue, turning it into little more than splinters and foundation. In another, viewers watch TACARM's Juggernaught, another armored vehicle with a long hydraulic boom arm, looking like some sort of mechanical prehistoric beast as it claws its way through roofs, breaks down doors and obliterates walls. And then there's the sheer size and carrying capacity of the Bulldog X, an armored vehicle manufactured by Alpine Armoring Inc. The sight of this behemoth lumbering onto the scene must be truly fear-inducing for the bad guys.

     Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, armored vehicles have been drawing a lot of interest from government entities such as the Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Department of Energy and, naturally, the Department of Defense. Law enforcement agencies all across the country have also shown interest.

     "Demand for armored vehicles has increased since [9/11]," says Steve Reopelle, president of TACARM. "Law enforcement recognized a need for armored vehicles designed specifically for them instead of [using] military surplus that is costly to maintain and is often unreliable." (See Page 74 for product information).

     Agencies are using the law enforcement-designed vehicles for serving high-risk warrants, rescuing officers, hostage situations, gang interventions and other callout circumstances where the risk to officers is high and consequently, so is the need for ballistic and blast protection, says Len Light, president of Lenco Armored Vehicles.

     Helping to fuel demand is the weaponry showing up on the streets these days. Consider the Kent Police Department SWAT team in Washington state.

     "My team has located a variety of large-bore hunting rifles, various assault rifles and numerous handguns," officer and SWAT team leader Bill Blowers says. "Crimes cover the gamut of UCR crimes from murder to vehicle theft. The team has had several officer-involved shootings in the past few years on barricaded-suspects calls."

     Blowers says Kent PD owns several armored vehicles and is in the process of adding more.

     "We average 50 to 60 callouts per year," he continues, "and the vehicles get used on almost all the missions in some fashion."

     And that's a key thing for agencies interested in buying an armored vehicle to consider, says Det. David Arnott, director of operations for the Florida SWAT Association, located in Longwood. Arnott, a 19-year veteran with the Orlando PD and assistant team leader on that agency's SWAT team, says departments should determine whether they need an armored vehicle, or if another form of ballistic protection — such as ballistic door panels — would work (see fire-suppression sidebar on Page 72).

     "Sometimes agencies will purchase an armored vehicle just to have a status symbol," Arnott explains. "There are agencies in Florida that have them and never use them."

     Depending on the bells and whistles, the average cost for an armored vehicle begins at $200,000. Adding accessories such as battering rams, backup cameras, hazmat detection devices, etc., adds to the purchase price. Arnott advises that agencies consider the accessory options carefully.

     "Just because it's an armored vehicle doesn't mean it's the right one," Arnott explains. "You have to know what kinds of weapons you are seeing and what the vehicle will actually protect against. For example, in Orlando we're seeing the big guns you'd normally find in the fighting fields of Iraq, like the AK-47. Recently, we dealt with two offenders that had high-powered automatic rifles."

     Arnott explains the first armored vehicle his department, which was obtained eight years ago, would not have protected against automatic rifles. But in the eyes of the administration, an armored vehicle would be able to enter any situation, which is not the case.

     Think about the suitability of the vehicle to the mission, Arnott says. He suggests agencies start their armored vehicle search by asking:

  1. What can you do with the vehicle?
  2. Is it suitable for your agency's mission?
  3. Is it affordable and justifiable to the agency and the community?

     He sees several trends taking place when it comes to armored vehicles. Originally, armored vehicles were designed to protect, but more recently rams are added and the vehicles are used offensively, for getting in, rather than solely for defense. The vehicles are lighter, more durable and drive better than their original counterparts. Manufacturers are also making them higher; clearance is very important for going over curbs, fencing and the normal street obstructions. Other contemporary innovations include enhanced heating and cooling systems, because teams can be stuck in the protective vehicles for hours, Arnott says.

     For agencies that have determined a need for an armored vehicle, Arnott says the best thing they could do is look for a reputable and responsive manufacturer.

     He also suggests getting in touch with past customers of the manufacturer the agency is interested in. "Ask about their service, commitment, education and performance. You want a manufacturer who listens to end-users and who makes changes based on this input. Also look to see whether or not the manufacturer can assist you in getting grant money."

     The latter illustrates one of the challenges facing both manufacturers and agencies, says Fred Khoroushi, president and general manager of Alpine Armoring Inc.

     "Providing high protection while keeping the price affordable is the driving force behind the sale of these trucks," Khoroushi says. "The protection level requirements seem to be going higher and higher. There used to be times that having high-powered rifles in the hands of the bad guys was not at all a concern of law enforcement, but in this day and age this is becoming more and more common. Also, armor-piercing rounds are becoming more prevalent in some areas, forcing manufacturers to improve and increase the protection level on both the opaque and transparent areas of the trucks."

     At the same time, budgets seem to be declining for many agencies, Khoroushi says. However, grant money appears to be on the rise, many agencies can also make use of asset forfeitures that provide cash toward purchasing SWAT vehicles.

     Light says that budget considerations don't seem to come into play where it concerns Lenco's vehicles. Ultimately, officer and community safety should be top priorities when choosing an armored vehicle.

     "We have not seen a shrinkage in demand based on pricing, nor have we seen a shift to pricing as a decision-making factor," Light says. "When it comes to the armored vehicles … required to protect the lives of the law enforcement team, as well as civilians, it is difficult to justify the procurement of a lower-priced or unproven product."

     Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelance writer based in Long Beach, California.

A Texas agency reaps the benefits of fire-suppression protection

     Assaults on its law enforcement personnel are rare; the last one happened more than three years ago, recalls Jay Six, chief deputy of the Tarrant County (Texas) patrol division. The agency has a total of over 1,300 personnel with a sworn strength of 250.

     In addition to its 55-square-mile jurisdiction, the Tarrant County patrol division, with 58 sworn deputies and 15 patrol supervisors, is responsible for two small communities for which they provide contracted services, says Six.

     "That attack was during a felony warrant arrest and occurred inside a house," says Six of the aforementioned assault. "Our deputy was wounded but survived. There have been no armed assaults on Tarrant County deputies while in their vehicles. Most armed assaults on peace officers in the immediate area have been with handguns, though there have been a few in the last 10 years where suspects used assault rifles."

     The agency does not have any armored vehicles, nor are its squad cars equipped with ballistic protection. But what they did decide to install — thanks to concerns over rear-end collisions involving the Ford Crown Victorial Police Interceptor (CVPI) and fires resulting from ruptured gas tanks — is a fire suppression system in the form of a panel that mounts to the fuel tank.

     "There had been a number of CVPI collisions across the country where fire was a result. In Dallas, [an] officer was killed in a CVPI fire after being rammed while on a traffic stop. The objective is to try to provide more protection and a few seconds of time in order to let the deputy get away from the wreckage," says Six.

     Scott Starr, marketing manager for FIRE Panel LLC, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based provider of the fire suppression system, says that it's common for an incident to drive demand. Another factor is the ever-increasing danger officers face on the roadways.

     "The biggest challenge [for law enforcement] is the relative size of the other vehicles on the road," Starr says. "With so many larger SUVs traveling at such high speeds, the opportunity for a high-speed, high-energy impact is greater today than in recent years."

     FIRE Panel protects against fires resulting from high-speed, rear-end impacts, an event that Starr says has resulted in the deaths of more than 20 officers in the last several years. The system, which mounts to the front side of the fuel tank, consists of a polymer panel that encapsulates fire-suppression powder. In the event of a rear-impact collision that compromises the gas tanks, the panel shatters and releases the powder, helping to prevent or stall a fire.

     "It weighs only 11 pounds and can be mounted to any CVPI, new or existing, so that entire fleets can be immediately protected," Starr says. Installation takes only about 20 minutes and requires no changes or dismantling of the car, he adds.

     All of Tarrant County's 25 CVPIs have been outfitted with trunk packs and retardant panels, says Six.

     "We've had two significant collisions where [CVPIs] were struck from the rear, but neither resulted in a fire," says Six. "One was before the panels and one after, but neither had a gas tank rupture, [although] the second one did break the fire retardant panel, as it should have."

A multitude of fortified forces

     Alpine Armoring Inc., a Herndon, Virginia-based company, manufactures the Bulldog X, which is the largest SWAT vehicle on the market, says Khoroushi. It has a stands 117 inches tall, has a length of 321 inches and a width of 93 inches, ranging from 26,000 to 33,000 pounds.

     The Bulldog X runs on a 6.4-liter diesel Mercedes Benz 900 engine, that delivers 210 horsepower. It offers protection on all sides against high-powered rifles. The vehicle has a revolving gun turret (with camera), four gun ports, suicide doors, large rear-door opening, and an escape hatch. The AR 500 steel surface is 0.5-inch thick, with glass/polycarbonate parts measuring 55mm thick, and features an armored fuel tank and battery compartment.

     "It offers seating for a 16-member crew with room to stand up," says Khoroushi. "This is a unique feature in the industry; a very high-protection, Level A10 armored truck that offers so much room and still sells for under $200,000."

     DefensTech International Inc., a company in Huntington Beach, California, manufactures ballistic armoring for vehicles, personnel and structures. DefensTech technologies optimize blast mitigation, says marketing manager Chris Thompson.

     One such product is Defend-X Ballistic Resistant Door Panels, which won Cygnus Law Enforcement Group's 2006 Innovation Award for vehicle safety.

     "The panels are designed to provide a ballistic-resistant and blast mitigating shield behind which law enforcement officers can take cover during a life-threatening encounter," explains Thompson.

     The panels are available in threat level III-A ballistic protection, which measure less than .5 inch thick and weigh less than 20 pounds per door. The doors are currently — or will soon be — available for the Chevy Impala, Dodge Charger, Ford Crown Vic and Chevy Tahoe. Threat level III and IV panels are available upon request. The company's bolt-on surface mount system allows for quick installation requiring minimal tools, says Thompson.

     Maryland-based Lenco Armored Vehicles has designed and manufactured nearly 5,000 armored vehicles internationally for law enforcement, military, special security forces and government, says Len Light, president.

     Lenco's B.E.A.R. and BearCat tactical armored vehicles are built with Mil-spec steel armor plates, which are tested at the Aberdeen Test Center and certified by the Department of Defense. The windows are composed of a glass-clad polycarbonate that was tested to defeat multi-hit rounds from armor-piercing ammunition provided by the Department of State, says Light.

     The BearCat was first developed in 2000 at the request of the Los Angeles Sheriff Special Enforcement Bureau, which wanted a smaller version of the Lenco B.E.A.R. According to Light, the company is already working on a Generation III BearCat.

     The BearCat is 20 feet long, 95 inches wide, stands 7 feet tall and weighs 17,000 pounds. It can seat 10 officers; up to 15 people in an evacuation.

     The bigger of the two vehicles is the 29,000-pound B.E.A.R. at 30 feet long, 100 inches wide, and 10 feet tall. It seats 14 officers but can fit many more, between 25 to 30, when used as an evacuation vehicle. Compared to the BearCat, it has more storage room and can be used as a command and control vehicle.

     "The B.E.A.R can be used in situations where a large vehicle is necessary as a show of force," says Light. "It would be effective in riot control [and] has been used to literally knock buildings down. The B.E.A.R is a much stouter vehicle than the BearCat mostly due to the HD nature of the vehicle platform. It does not have the same maneuverability."

     Both vehicles have the same armor, designed to defeat .50-caliber M2HB. Vehicle floors are blast-resistant Mil-Spec steel. Both are four-wheel drive, have rotating roof turrets and a zero-gravity lift system for the armored roof hatch. The company has developed an on-board SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) system for hazmat situations, including meth lab interdiction. For law enforcement use, they offer padded seating, carpeting and air conditioning/heating systems. Both vehicles have a 25-year life expectancy.

     The TACARM Juggernaut is a rubber-tracked, armored vehicle featuring a hydraulic boom arm with a 24-foot horizontal reach and a 26-foot vertical reach, designed for breaching fortified doors, windows, walls, attics and roofs. The Juggernaut can also move suspect or hazardous vehicles, says the Washington-based company's president, Steve Reopelle.

     "The Juggernaut can be used to help solve barricaded subjects, hostage incidents, dynamic warrant search and riot control situations," he says. "It can deliver negotiations, equipment or chemical agents, and can deploy flash bangs," he says.

     The vehicle — which stands 93 inches tall, 78 inches wide and nearly 14 feet long — has an infrared camera that can be used to search second story rooms or attics. It was designed for law enforcement tactical teams to be more effective and better protected while operating inside the inner perimeter.

     Thanks to the hydraulic arm, tactical officers no longer have to leave the protection of an armored vehicle or transport-type truck, thereby greatly reducing risk, says Reopelle.

     "Suspects can no longer fortify themselves inside a structure, booby trap entrance points or hide in attics," he says. "The Juggernaut provides new capabilities that overwhelm the suspect and facilitate surrender without exposing personnel to the threat."