gilroy police department lenco bearcat armored vehicle
The Gilroy Police Department shares this Lenco BearCat armored vehicle with neighboring law enforcement agencies. Photo: Erik Chalhoub
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Gilroy will buy its own armored vehicle for the police department after its decade-long access to a shared vehicle was restricted due to a recent state law.

The Gilroy City Council on Monday unanimously approved a $360,497 purchase of a Lenco BearCat, an armored vehicle used in major incidents where officers’ and the public’s safety are at risk.

Gilroy Police Capt. Luke Powell said the purchase will help the department resolve serious incidents more quickly, freeing up resources to respond to other calls throughout the city.

“Our goal is to keep our officers safe and conclude critical incidents or acts of violence with the least amount of force necessary,” he said. “A Gilroy-owned rescue vehicle would improve our chances of attaining that goal.”

In 2010, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office received a state grant to purchase an armored rescue vehicle, with the requirement that it would be shared with Gilroy’s and Morgan Hill’s police departments.

Under the agreement, the sheriff’s office would ensure compliance with the grant, while Gilroy Police would store and maintain the vehicle.

However, when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 481 into law in September 2021, it required law enforcement agencies to gain approval from their governing bodies to acquire items classified as “military equipment.” In response, the sheriff’s office relocated the vehicle from Gilroy to San Jose, and created a checkout process.

Powell said the process takes hours, based on how quickly the sheriff’s office responds to requests, as well as traffic conditions between Gilroy and San Jose.

Such a process has hindered deescalation efforts in recent incidents in Gilroy, according to Powell.

He pointed to an hours-long March 26 standoff on Dryden Avenue in rural Gilroy, where a suspect holed up in a residence fired a gun multiple times at officers. Armored vehicles arrived from San Jose and Campbell, but it took more than two hours for officers to set up a perimeter while they faced gunfire.

“Two of the rescue vehicles were struck multiple times by the suspect,” Powell said. “It’s important to note that because the officers were secured in a rescue vehicle with ballistic protection, their lives were not in imminent danger, and they did not feel that they had to return fire to preserve their lives. The outcome may have been drastically different if the rescue vehicles were not available at this event.”

Earlier in April, police attempting to take an attempted murder suspect into custody at a residence in Gilroy had to wait more than six hours before the vehicle arrived. When it eventually showed up, the suspect was arrested within 30 minutes, according to Powell.

“This incident is a classic example of how a rescue vehicle’s delay is a drain on Gilroy’s resources,” he said. “An incident that could’ve been resolved in 30 minutes took over six hours and tied up public safety resources and diminished our ability to serve the community in an efficient manner.”

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.

1 COMMENT

  1. Governor Newsom and the California Legislature disregarding the safety of our law enforcement officers while releasing felons into our neighborhoods.

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