Like Other Local Departments, El Dorado County Has its Own Military-Style BEARCAT Vehicle

Courtesy El Dorado County Sheriff's Department

As the world’s attention has turned to protests and unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, some have criticized the use of equipment meant for battlefields by local police.

The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department is among the local agencies using equipment that once belonged to the U.S. military, and has received at least one mine-resistant vehicle, an armored vehicle, 53 assault rifles and more from the Department of Defense, according to the New York Times.

The New York Times reported “the federal government has spent more than a decade paying for body armor, mine-resistant trucks and other military gear, all while putting few restrictions on its use.”

The El Dorado County SWAT team. Courtesy El Dorado County Sheriff's Department.

The El Dorado County SWAT team. Courtesy El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department.

The spread of such equipment accelerated after Sept. 11, and much of it was distributed in the name of fighting terrorism, the Times said.

“For years, much of the equipment has gone unnoticed,” the Times said. “But as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have drawn down, police departments have been receiving 30-ton, mine-resistant trucks from the military. That has caught the attention of the public and caused controversy in several towns.”

The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department highlighted just such a vehicle in an October 2013 press release titled, “Sheriff D’Agostini Presents ‘The Operators.’ ”

“This year, the SWAT Team acquire a new tool, the Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counterattack Truck, also known as the ‘BEARCAT,’ ” the press release said. “This unique tactical vehicle was purchased without any cost to the community. The accumulation of asset seizure funds made this purchase possible.”

The 12-person El Dorado County SWAT team is called out about 10 times each year, according to the department. In February, the SWAT team was deployed at an overnight standoff with a parolee in El Dorado Hills.

The El Dorado County SWAT team. Courtesy El Dorado County Sheriff's Department.

The El Dorado County SWAT team. Courtesy El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department.

The BEARCAT, made by Massachusetts-based Lenco Armored Vehicles, is a popular tool for SWAT teams and military units. It’s designed to protect against powerful gunshots and explosives. But it has become a polarizing symbol in the recent protests in Ferguson – a sign of over-reaction by the police, critics say.

Norm Stamper, a former Seattle Police Chief who was criticized for that department’s response to a 1999 WTO protest, said battlefield-style tools should only be used “where you have an active shooter, where you have a barricaded suspect, where the situation really does call for the military-like response.”

The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department hasn’t faced any such criticism, and isn’t likely to anytime soon: its SWAT team and the BEARCAT have been spending less and less time on the streets.

“Fortunately for our community, the number of SWAT call-outs has significantly dropped over the past couple of years,” the department said in its October 2013 press release.

When should equipment like this be used by the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department? Tell us in the comments section below.

  • Greg Post

    Sheriff’s Deputies, or Sheriff’s Army ?

    Wait – the SWAT team needed a $658,000 armored personnel carrier for a dozen raids and an overnight standoff with a parolee” last year ?! That is absurd.

    …the press release said. “This unique tactical vehicle was purchased without any cost to the community. The accumulation of asset seizure funds made this purchase possible.” That’s disengenuous at best.

    The money may not have come from the County budget, but, the definition of “asset seizure funds” is that the money was stolen from somebody, most often unrelated to any crime or charges. It’s called “policing for profit”. Look that up. But, even if it were true, the claim is off-point, and doesn’t address the real issues:

    Does the Sheriff’s Department really need a military assault vehicle ? Does it really need its new $50,000 .50 caliber sniper rifles with a 1+ mile effective range ? Does it really need the military assault weapons it has obtained ? (see the list below…) Instead of going on a spending spree, after buying a year’s subscription for donuts and pizza, could it not have returned the rest of the money to the people it was stolen from ?

    The trouble with these types of armaments, like everything else, when you have them, they tend to get used more frequently, and for “mission-creep” purposes. When you have a sledge-hammer, more and more things start to look like spikes to be hammered down…

    These are tip-of-the-spear military weapons, used by soldiers to conquer, intimidate, and subdue local populations who see them as invaders and occupiers. What legitimate use has a “peace officer” with weapons that go far beyond the firepower necessary to “protect and to serve”, but in fact are weapons of war, occupation, and martial rule ?

    Go Visit: http://www.freep.com/article/20140817/NEWS06/140726001/?appSession=121184669871034 for the 4-page itemized and dated list of the military equipment the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department has obtained recently – it’s a fascinating read.

    For example, you’ll find: on a long list of sundry items: An Armored truck ($65,000), 2 Utility trucks ($50,000), 4 night-vision sniper-scope sights ($17,640), 40 Reflex sights ($13,120), 52 AR-15/5.62mm assault rifles ($26,000) 25 night-vision goggles ($150,000), 10 night-vision rifle sights ($ unknown), a floodlight ($18,400), and the pictured BEARCAT “mine-resistant vehicle” ($658,000 – yes, that’s 2/3 of a Million Dollars).

    That’s one helluva lot of money stolen from people by doing “policing for profit” ! ANd it’s the equipment for an army folks, not for a sheriff’s department in a small rural county…

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