“Why, oh why, do cops need tanks?”
“I don’t want cops to have military equipment. A tank? They don’t NEED a tank!”
“It’s ridiculous. No police department should have a tank.”
“Tank, tank, tank, tank … yada, yada, yada …”
Well, believe it or not police actually agree with those comments. Because they don’t need tanks nor do they have a desire for them.
“That’s a lie. We see those big ole tanks sitting in their motor pools. And for goodness sake, I saw on the news where they parked a couple of them at the perimeter of the
riot protest in our town. They want tanks and they’ve got them. THEY DO NOT NEED TANKS!”
Okay, let’s put this tank business, like the use of cordite in modern ammunition, to rest. Here goes, so hold on to your hats because this may shock some of you … POLICE DEPARTMENTS DO NOT HAVE TANKS as part of their fleet of vehicles. More on this in a moment, though.
First, I’d like to tell you a brief and very true story about Robert C. Bayliss, a man who lived in a home nestled within his 18-acre property in Richland County, Wisconsin.
Robert C. Bayliss
Bayliss had not paid taxes on the property for approximately eight years. Therefore, eviction proceedings were underway. Richland County deputies attempted to serve the eviction notice (civil process) to Bayliss several times over a period of three months, but they had not been able to contact the man. So, on the afternoon of March 31, 2008, Richland County Sheriff Darrel Berglin’s deputies warily made their way to Bayliss’s home. It was time to force the eviction and, like all similar situations, one never knows what to expect. But all deputies are aware that evictions, like domestic disputes, can be extremely dangerous.
As the deputies approached, they were suddenly attacked by gunfire from someone using a high-powered rifle. The law enforcement officers immediately called for backup, and in the blink of an eye, what could’ve been a simple eviction service transformed into a highly volatile standoff with Bayliss refusing to negotiate.
Sheriff Berglin decided to send a special response team to the residence, hoping to take Bayliss into custody. But he couldn’t take the chance of Bayliss wounding or killing a deputy so he had them utilize the department’s Bear Cat (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter-Attack Truck).
A Bear Cat is NOT a tank.
Bear Cats are nothing more than large armor-plated four-wheel-drive trucks that are primarily used for rescue operations and for the safety of officers. These vehicles provide armor protection from incoming gunfire up to .50 caliber rounds.
They’re designed with high ground clearance that allows the vehicle to travel in rugged terrain for off-road rescues. They have a large open floor plan that accommodates ten officers as well as space to transport the injured, wounded, and others. Again, a Bear Cat is nothing more than a bulletproof four-wheel-drive truck that prevents law enforcement officers from being wounded or killed by incoming gunfire.
As an added benefit for citizens, the rolling metal boxes/vehicles are well-suited for rescuing lost persons, people stranded by floods and heavy snow. In fact, in 2011, police officers used a Bear Cat to rescue 108 motorists who were stranded by a snowstorm. In Bakersfield, California, officers used a Bear Cat to rescue sixty residents of a neighborhood while a man fired random shots throughout the area, including rounds fired at the Bear Cat as it made its way to and from various homes during the rescue operation. The gunfire was unable to penetrate the Bear Cat’s armor-plating.
Bear Cats and their larger cousins, MRAPS, are not equipped with firepower of any kind. As I stated above, they’re nothing more than rolling metal boxes designed to stop bullets.
MRAPs have a V-shaped hull, a raised chassis and armored plating. They’re capable of withstanding blasts from explosive devices. Their glass is bulletproof and tires are run-flat, meaning that when hit by gunfire the vehicle is still operable.
There’s absolutely nothing scary about either these vehicles. They are not equipped with firepower of any type.
In fact, a couple of years ago, at the Writers’ Police Academy, attendees had a ball climbing in and out of both Bear Cats and MRAPS, and taking time to pose for fun photos and selfies.
Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) is a larger armor-plated vehicle. (Writers’ Police Academy photos)
On the other hand, an actual tank, such as the M1 Abrams, may be equipped with a 120mm XM256 Smooth Bore Cannon, a 7.62 M240 coaxial Machine gun, and a .50 cal. M2 Machine gun.
Tanks, such as the the two pictured below, are far more than rolling bulletproof boxes. Instead, they’re designed for fighting by providing overwhelming firepower aimed at an enemy. Law enforcement agencies do not posses tanks.
Police, by the way, do not have enemies. They arrest criminals and protect life and property.
But let’s return to Bayliss and his eviction for not paying his taxes.
The sheriff and his team, which by this time consisted of personnel from at least four additional agencies, decided to send three Bear Cats, in formation, to the house. As they approached, Bayliss opened fire, moving from window to window to send a barrage of bullets toward the vehicles. The Bear Cats stopped each round, just as they’re designed to do.
Police snipers returned fire at the home, but Bayliss had previously fortified the place with steel plating, which stopped rounds fired by officers. Refusing to give up, Bayliss began to toss homemade explosives at the vehicles.
Suddenly, flames were seen inside the home and soon Bayliss exited through a window, climbing down a ladder. One his side, though, was a holstered pistol. Not taking any chances, police fired less-than-lethal rounds which struck Bayliss in the thigh. He then dropped the weapon and surrendered.
The point of telling this true tale is to make the point that those scary, former surplus military vehicles are absolutely NOT tanks, not even close, and that they’re used to save lives, not take them.
Now for the history of how and why police receive surplus military equipment.
The National Defense Authorization Act of 1990, section 1208, started the ball rolling by authorizing the transfer of surplus military equipment from the Department of Defense to federal and state agencies for use in counter-drug operations. The program was run by the Department of Defense from the Pentagon and its regional offices.
The Law Enforcement Support Office was set up to work with law enforcement.
The National Defense Authorization Act, the 1208 program, expanded to a newer 1033 program which allowed “all law enforcement agencies to acquire property for bona fide law enforcement purposes that assist in their arrest and apprehension mission.” Preference for the equipment was given to counter-drug and counter-terrorism requests and operations. On September 23, 1996, it was President Bill Clinton who signed it into law.
As the liaison for my department with the DOD, I personally acquired a wide array of surplus military equipment, such as clothing, boots, helmets, cameras and film, office equipment, night vision devices, various tools, generators, lighting, and much more. It’s a great budget-saving program that helped agencies obtain tools of the trade they may not otherwise be able to afford. Why not use the equipment? The stuff was simply gathering dust in huge DOD warehouses and on dirt lots where rows of vehicles sat … and sat … and sat. The military was done with the stuff.
The armored vehicles, the MRAPs and Bear Cats, save lives. Think about that for a moment, with an open mind, and please let it sink in that instead of responding to a call in a typical patrol car, where a violent subject, such as Robert C. Bayliss is armed with high-powered rifles, hand guns, and explosive devices, officers could approach the scene safely and securely in an big armored box on wheels.
By the way, Robert Bayliss had more than ninety (90) firearms in his residence. He fired more than two-hundred rounds from a single 300 Winchester Magnum rifle. He threw approximately three dozen explosive grenades at the officers.
Patrol cars are not armored. Their window glasses and windshields are not bulletproof. Their tires deflate when struck by gunfire. An officer’s vest will not stop rounds from high-powered rifles. They have no protection from gunfire for their heads, necks, arms, legs, groins or buttocks.
Isn’t someone’s life worth a law enforcement agency’s ability to utilize an oversized, armor-plated four-wheel-drive truck during emergency situations? After all, that’s all they are … big trucks. However, their occupants are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, brothers, sisters, grandparents, and grandchildren.
No, those vehicles are not tanks. Perhaps if they were painted a nice shade of pink or lavender …