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View All Articles | November 26, 2019

Northland Top Cops Talk Importance of Armored Vehicles to Face Active Shooters, Save Lives

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Five Law Enforcement Agencies in the Northland Have Some Type of Armored Vehicle

From schools and workplaces to concerts and nightclubs, innocent lives are being taken away in America by heavily armed suspects in active shooter situations, which is why more law enforcement agencies across the country and right here in the Northland are investing in armored vehicles that can withstand the worst of the worst.  FOX 21’s Dan Hanger reports.

The city of Superior is home to what’s called a BearCat — the newest armored vehicle in the Northland specifically designed to rescue people from severe weather like floods and mudslides, but more importantly create ballistic protection for SWAT and tactical teams — victims, too — during standoffs, felony search warrants or active shooter situations.

The truck is built on a ford F-550 chassis weighing 18,000 pounds. And it’s made with bulletproof steel and bulletproof glass.

“If people are getting shot or in harms way and you need to get out of a threat area, I can pack a lot of people in here,” said Capt. Thomas Champaign, II, of the Superior Police Department.

Champaigne says the protection of a BearCat allows for better access to high-risk situations.

“This will come in and we can get close, try to communicate with that person and deescalate that situation. If that turns bad and they decide to start shooting at us, we’re still protected from within this, we can still communicate,” Champaigne said.

“We’ve seen an uptick in the active shooters at schools, at businesses, and so on. Here’s a piece of equipment that in that type of scenario we would utilize,” said Chief Nicholas Alexander, of the Superior Police Department.

Alexander believes the $350,000 investment in a BearCat — much of that through a state grant — is worth every dollar when it comes to protecting his officers and the community.

“I don’t want it to be a situation where it was, well, we didn’t have money or so on when we’re talking about an injury or fatality of one of our officers. I want to be able to know we’ve taken steps to provide the best possible equipment to keep them safe to do the job they’re tasked with doing,” Alexander explained.

With the purchase of the BearCat, came the release of a much-bulkier military armored vehicle Superior had originally received through a federal surplus program.

Making the switch is something Chief Alexander believes was the best move for many reasons.

“I think the BearCat represents a nice balance between the needs that we have as an agency to keep our officers safe and the community safe, while recognizing some of the concerns from the public in terms of PTSD and triggering and militarization,” Alexander said.

The surplus vehicle has since been transferred to the Washburn County Sheriff’s Office at virtually no cost instead of using a refurbished ambulance for the tactical unit with zero protection from bullets.

“It’s been something we have been wanting for quite a few years,” said Sheriff Dennis Stuart of the Washburn County Sheriff’s Office.

Stuart — a military veteran himself who served a tour of duty in desert storm — understands the vehicle may look scary to some, but he reminds us how scary the job of law enforcement can be.

“We’re dealing with people on a daily basis out there who can buy armor like we wear. Ya know up in northern Wisconsin how many households have deer rifles? Lots.  A 12-gage round will go through our ballistic vests,” Stuart said.

Sheriff Stuart doesn’t expect the vehicle to be out more than around three times a year for high-risk calls, but he says you just never know what tomorrow will bring.

“It could be a simple domestic that you roll up to originally, and it turns into something that’s high risk — of a death,” Stuart said.

Meanwhile in Duluth, the biggest city in the Northland, the police department does not have its own armored vehicle.  It instead has relied on mutual aid agreements with the city of Superior and the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office.

“It buys you time, space and distance while providing your staff being safe, and have the opportunity to take someone into custody that is really suffering from a crisis,” Tusken said.

Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken points to the Las Vegas mass shooting with the shooter above in a hotel as a big example of when an armored vehicle could be used to get to victims safely and help save lives.

“One, you have to go and eliminate the threat, but if you were going to be a responder, there’s no way you’d get in there to start pulling bodies without armor, there’s no way it happens, right? Not safely,” Tusken explained.

The Duluth Police Department does not have any immediate plans or funding to purchase an armored vehicle, but if it were to happen down the road, Chief Tusken says the vehicle would be comparable to the civilian-designed BearCat  — not a military surplus vehicle.

“The safety of our officers and community is paramount, we’re a lifesaving organization, we don’t want to have anyone in our community injured. We certainly don’t want our cops injured,” Tusken said.

And fellow law enforcement leaders on the other side of the bridge feel the same way, as they begin year two with the BearCat and no injuries when using the vehicle to date.

“It’s obviously one tool in a tool belt of options that we use for dealing with people who are in crisis or are some sort of threat to harming themselves or others,” Alexander said.

In all, St. Louis, Douglas, Washburn and Sawyer counties all have some type of armored vehicle, along with the city of Superior.

The two vehicles in this story are equipped with cameras that record all calls, just like squad car cams and body cameras.