We’ve become used to seeing police officers dressed like military forces. While we’re not ostensibly embroiled in a colonial war, it’s hard not to draw parallels to Ireland a century ago, when Royal Irish Constabulary forces drove around Dublin in armored trucks harassing and assaulting rebels and residents alike.
Today, police officers across the U.S. wear uniforms, helmets, weapons and vehicles that are, in many cases, nearly identical to those used on the battlefield. Look at photos of cops in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, and it seems like they were actually wearing more gear than soldiers headed into battle.
So it wasn’t surprising to see this very brief Consent Calendar item on the Sept. 25 Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting agenda:
Approve contract PO-060-19010127 with Lenco Industries Inc. for one-time purchase and delivery of one armored vehicle, effective upon Board approval ($406,470.63); and authorize County Procurement Officer or authorized Deputy to execute contract – All Districts
You read that right: for the incredibly low price of just $406,470.63, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) will get the latest version of the Lenco BearCat (click here to read the purchase contract).
“The new armored vehicle (also known as the BearCat) has been in use by many SWAT units across the U.S.” states a county staff report on the new vehicle. “The BearCat has an all steel armor construction, V-8 turbo diesel engine and high ballistic protection. It seats 10-12 officers and has an open floor plan to allow for rescue of downed personnel. The BearCat also offers increased ground clearance and an adequate suspension for emergency response in rural regions and natural disaster scenarios where standard armored SWAT vehicles might experience challenges.”
BearCat is actually an acronym that stands for “Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck.” They can apparently withstand hits from .50 caliber bullets and rocket-propelled grenades. According to Lenco’s website, the newest version of the BearCat–the G3–is good on and off the road:
The G3 utilizes the same body design, interior features and tactical options as the G2, but it comes standard with a heavier duty upgraded suspension and off-road tires, rims & run flats to provide enhanced off-road performance. The increased ground clearance and robust suspension allows for emergency response in rural regions and natural disaster scenarios where standard armored SWAT vehicles would experience challenges. If your mission takes you off-road, the Lenco BearCat G3 will get you where you need to go. Available with mission-specific design features for Police and Government, Medical and Fire Response.
We’re a long way from the old delivery van from the 1970s TV show S.W.A.T. According to Independent Lens on PBS, Lenco has built more than 5,000 armored vehicles since 1981.
The county staff report says this new BearCat will replace the old Bear armored truck the county purchased back in 2005, which has “reached the end of its useful life span.”
The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the Lenco contract at their Sept. 25 meeting (the item was on the consent calendar, which meant there wasn’t even any discussion prior to voting).
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.