While often unappreciated, law enforcement personnel regularly put their lives on the line, taking risks to prevent the community from being exposed to the risk. While officers and deputies take these in full awareness, they don’t take them blindly or without making every effort to minimize them. With focused training and equipment specifically for the highest risk situations, our special operations personnel manage the greatest threats. One tool they use, very strategically, is the armored personnel carrier or APC. Every different team can have a different set of needs, so the basic APC needs to be customized to suit the team’s need.
Some of the customizations are actually design features that need to be built in and specified when ordering the APC. Of course, some APCs aren’t ordered; some are “take what you get” surplus from DRMO or a larger agency that is handing it down. In that case, while the APC might not fulfill your team’s every need, it can be far better than the best SUV you have. If your agency has a need for an APC but is facing budget challenges, securing an APC from a surplus source is your best option while you build your case for funding a new one. During the process of building your case, you should also be identifying your needs and requirements so that when you secure the funding, you know exactly what you’re ordering from the manufacturer.
We spoke to Major Steve Jones, Commander of the Calvert County, Maryland Special Operations Division. With about two decades of experience in special operations, Major Jones’ first comments were of warning: “An APC isn’t like every other vehicle. It requires dedicated and trained personnel. You can’t just make assumptions and let the best driver on your team take the driver’s seat. There’s more to managing an APC than that.”
He points out such design features as underseat storage and driver’s/passenger’s weapon mounts. Since they don’t necessarily lock, anytime the APC is deployed an operator has to be dedicated to keeping it secured. You never lose money betting on the audacity or lack of common sense for some members of the community; you know the ones—they’ll walk right up to your APC while it’s deployed in a high risk area and decide it’s the perfect time to take a look at all the cool stuff inside.
Any equipment that is mounted on or in the APC has to be used properly and any restrictions understood. For example, a winch. Winches are rated for certain maximum weights and how they’re used takes training. Any team operator that might be assigned to be the APC driver/operator should meet the training requirements for all included equipment. That list will evolve as the use of the APC evolves.
Major Jones also discussed what customizations might be required. Due to the infrastructure and specific threat concerns in his jurisdiction, his team needed to add radiological/biological/gas detection equipment. The addition of the equipment also meant the addition of training time for each team member. While each team member can carry portable detectors for such threats, they may or may not be, depending on the situation, and having the detection equipment mounted in the APC offers another layer of detection/protection for the team’s safety. Interestingly, the most common “gas” threat mentioned was leaky/leaking propane tanks. While we often think about large gas storage facilities, we are far more likely to encounter propane tanks at an incident scene and they can be quite large dependent on use. A leaking one can present a major threat.
The greatest strength Major Jones identified for the team’s APC was the most basic: its ballistic protection. With a great deal of rural space in his jurisdiction, it’s not uncommon for the team to have to traverse several hundred yards of open field while approaching a potential threat or target location. That entire space presents an open field of fire if a bad guy sees the team coming. Approaching in the APC offers the team protection to cross that hot zone. Likewise, it also offers protection if the team, or just a couple members thereof, have to enter a field of fire to rescue another officer or an innocent/hostage.
For that specific use, Major Jones voiced his regret that his team’s APC doesn’t have a door in the floor. The APC wasn’t ordered with such and having one installed after the fact is a hefty expense. It gets chalked up as a lesson learned about needs and requirements for future APC purchase. Why a door in the floor? With one, the APC can be driven up straddling a downed officer or proned out hostage and they can be lifted into the APC without exposing the rescuing officers to further threat from weapons fire. Without the door in the floor, any officer inside the APC has to be exposed to potential incoming rounds by either exiting the vehicle or using it simply as cover while extracting whomever is being rescued.
An option that Calvert doesn’t have on its APC, but some agencies in more urban areas do, is an extendable ladder/ramp system mounted on the roof, used for reaching entries into second or third floor levels in a target structure. Such systems can be used both directions meaning that they can be used to insert operators through those elevated entries or for extracting hostages/innocents from those levels.
A battering ram mount and/or pull chain/hook on the front of the APC can be a handy option. Veteran special team members can usually give you an example of a dynamic entry they were part of that required either removal of a steel “storm” door to get to the regular door and/or ramming that main door open with an APC due to the high risk/threat of exposing team members as they spent time attempting a more traditional breach.
Perhaps the easiest customization any agency can make to its APC is to mark it. There is no need for your APC to remain unmarked and, in fact, you can probably avoid some misunderstanding (or a defendant’s claim thereof) by clearly marking your APC with your agency’s special operations logo and large “SHERIFF” or “POLICE” lettering front and rear.
“Don’t let the APC’s use make you complacent,” reminds Major Jones. “The ballistic protection properties are great but just because they exist doesn’t mean you should readily put yourself in the position to need them. Always find a lower risk way and only use the APC when no other option exists.”