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View All Articles | December 1, 2015

A textbook case of when police should use armored vehicles

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The increasingly common use by police of heavy equipment and military style weapons and tactics has been a steady theme of critics in the past couple of years, and with good reason.

As writers such as Radley Balko have documented, the number of paramilitary raids conducted by police, sometimes with battering rams and armored vehicles, has soared in recent decades.

However, Friday’s attack on the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs provided a textbook example of how armored vehicles can become a lifesaver when an active shooter is cornered.

Critics of heavy armor in police work need to acknowledge that its use is not always overkill. Sometimes police would be rashly irresponsible not to deploy it.

In the Colorado Springs attack, the lone gunman might have killed more than three people if police had not had an armored personnel carrier known as a BearCat at their disposal. According to various reports, the BearCat was used multiple times to ferry people trapped inside the facility to ambulances and police vehicles outside.

Police also used an armored vehicle identified by The Gazette as a BEAR, which is somewhat larger than the BearCat, to smash a hole in the front of the building for greater access inside. And as The Denver Post reported, not long afterward Robert Lewis Dear gave up and was taken into custody.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration took steps to rein in the militarization of police forces by banning the transfer of some military equipment to law enforcement. It reviewed its policy after an uproar over a heavy-handed show of force by police during protests in Ferguson, Mo.

The administration’s move not only was justified, it failed to go far enough — by not banning the transfer, for example, of the 18-ton Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle, or MRAP. The MRAP, complete with a gun turret, was designed to protect troops from roadside bombs, a non-existent threat in America. And yet a surprising number of even small police agencies have been eager to scoop up these behemoths from the Pentagon.

By contrast, the BearCat was designed for an urban environment to withstand the sort of threat police encountered Friday.

When an active shooter is on the loose, the right sort of armored vehicle can be indispensable.

By The Denver Post Editorial Board