Better off with a BearCat

Madison police want to trade in military vehicle

Turns out a military vehicle designed for war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan isn’t the best fit for cops in Madison. Police hope to replace their towering tank-like truck with a smaller armored rescue vehicle currently owned by the Dane County Sheriff’s Office. The department is seeking approval from the Common Council to purchase the county’s old Lenco BearCat so it can get rid of the imposing Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle currently used for “high-risk” operations.

“This is clearly an upgrade. The BearCat is much better suited for law enforcement in an urban environment. It will give us a lot more operational flexibility,” says Capt. John Patterson, head of the Madison Police Department’s SWAT team. “I’m looking forward to seeing the old [MRAP vehicle] go back to the U.S. military.”

In 2013, Madison police acquired a Navistar Defense MaxxPro MRAP vehicle through a federal program that distributes excess military equipment to civilian law enforcement agencies. It was a controversial decision to accept the surplus military vehicle. But the department says it needs an armored vehicle for risky search warrant operations, emergency rescues and other dangerous, if rare, situations. The MRAP vehicle is deployed around 20 times a year, according to Patterson.

The SWAT team leader says the department has long wanted a BearCat but the price tag for a new one (more than $250,000) just wasn’t feasible in recent budgets. So they’ve made due with the MRAP vehicle even though it was designed for the battlefield.

“The [MRAP] vehicle doesn’t really meet our needs. It’s extremely heavy, almost 40,000 pounds. So driving across grass or turf is always a huge question mark if we are going to make it,” says Patterson. “It’s also taller than some semi-trucks. You can’t drive it into ramps, parking garages or the lot under the City County Building. It also requires quite a bit of specialized care and maintenance. But that said, it’s a lot better than nothing.”

Now, the department wants to acquire a used BearCat (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck). The opportunity presented itself recently as the Dane County Sheriff’s Office prepares to buy a brand new BearCat, in part, with a state grant. The Madison Police Department is asking the Common Council to allocate $40,000 from the capital budget to buy the county’s BearCat and spend another $10,000 to add new markings, upgrade equipment and do maintenance.

Capt. Jason Freedman, a former SWAT team member, agrees that the BearCat is preferable to an MRAP.

“You can fit more officers or people you are rescuing inside of a BearCat. It’s smaller on the outside but bigger on the inside if that makes sense. It’s also built on a Ford pickup chassis so it’s much more maneuverable than what we currently have,” he says. “In virtually every single category, it’s better for the city. Better for the department. Better for people in the community.”

That includes the optics of deploying a military vehicle on city streets. The smaller BearCat may be built like a tank but it’s dwarfed by an MRAP. It also doesn’t have a turret designed for a machine gun.

“No turret on the BearCat. That hasn’t been a popular thing to see for some folks,” says Patterson. “But when you get the vehicle for free from the government, you don’t get to say, ‘Can you take off the turret?’”

The Dane County Sheriff’s Office new BearCat is scheduled to arrive in late summer. Sheriff Dave Mahoney says the office is selling its old BearCat to help pay for the new one.

“We needed to upgrade some of the technologies in the vehicle and we knew that there was going to be some maintenance requirements coming up with the existing BearCat,” says Mahoney. “So when we learned there were [state grant] dollars available, we took advantage of that.”

Patterson says the Madison Police Department has inspected the vehicle and is aware there are maintenance costs but adds “there is still some life left in it.”

“I don’t mean to bash the [MRAP]. We’ve made it work,” says Patterson. “But even a used BearCat from the county is better than what we’ve got now.”

The department’s proposal to buy Dane County’s old BearCat is scheduled to be debated before the city’s finance committee. It will also need approval from the Common Council.

By Dylan Brogan
ISTMUS
View article on isthmus.com

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