SANDPOINT — The Bonner County Sheriff’s Office is getting one of the last pieces of equipment the department feels it needs to adequately respond to an active-shooter scenario.
County commissioners approved Sheriff Daryl Wheeler’s request Tuesday to enter into a lease-to-purchase agreement for a Lenco BearCat armored personnel carrier, a vehicle which can be used to safely insert law enforcement or emergency medical personnel into a scene while soaking up incoming gunfire.
“This is no different to me than a bulletproof vest on a body,” Undersheriff Bob Bussey told commissioners. “It’s a safety tool.”
Although BearCats can be configured into assault vehicles, sheriff’s officials emphasized that its rescue capability will be its primary role. It will not be fitted with a weapons system.
“This is a rescue vehicle,” Wheeler said.
The county is securing a $220,000 loan that will be paid off over a period of four years. The county will pay a total of $7,000 of interest on the loan.
The vehicle is not the top of the BearCat line, but it’s not at the bottom either. The BearCat G3 has a V-8 twin turbo diesel engine and has four-wheel drive.
It’s constructed to military specifications for durability under fire, but lacks a blast shield to fend off improvised explosive device attacks.
In order to cover the cost of the BearCat, the sheriff’s office will buy one less patrol vehicle a year for the next four years. The sheriff’s office fleet budget enables the purchase of four new patrol vehicles a year, but the BearCat acquisition will cut that to three.
The BearCat replaces an antiquated Peacemaker armored personnel carrier that was obtained from the U.S. Air Force. It’s nearly 40 years, cramped and unreliable.
“It’s a historical piece,” Commissioner Mike Nielsen, half-joking that it would make a good exhibit at the Bonner County Historical Museum.
Some have accused the sheriff’s office of being overly militarized by having the Peacekeeper, even though it is not equipped for an armed assault and can’t fit deputies fully clad in tactical gear.
Bussey said he looked hard at possibly saving money by obtaining a surplus military armored vehicles, such as the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, coming back from overseas. But he was warned that MRAPs can be a black hole of specialized maintenance costs.
“It was just a maintenance nightmare for us,” said Bussey said of the MRAP, noting that only the BearCat’s thermal camera would require special maintenance by the manufacturer for proprietary reasons.
Bonner EMS Chief Rob Wakeley endorsed the BearCat acquisition because it can be used to quickly bring in medical personnel or extract a wounded deputy or citizen during an active-shooter scenario.