Chariots under fire

Trends in armored vehicles reflect security concerns in a post-9/11 SWAT force

     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."

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