(Image courtesy RCPD)
Riley County Police Department Director Brad Schoen said the department will be purchasing a Lenco Bearcat armored personnel carrier at the Riley County Law Board meeting on Monday.
The purchase will be funded by money seized as a result of various cases and investigations and would not impact any government’s budgets or taxes. The RCPD seizure fund was only expected to grow marginally over the last 10 years, but it grew significantly after two cases worked in conjunction with federal authorities in the county which added sums of $154,000, $283,000 and $180,000 to the overall fund. The seizure fund balance totaled $594,386.83 as of July 17 and the Bearcat purchase is estimated to cost about $300,000.
The only limitations on seizure funds is that they cannot be used to supersede and replace the department’s usual budget, but otherwise their use is solely up to the discretion of the head of the department. Though Schoen did not have to present the purchase before the Law Board, he said he wanted to maintain transparency and keep the public informed.
Schoen said there have been multiple cases in the last five years where a readily-available armored vehicle would have been helpful. RCPD has had to borrow the vehicles from either Junction City or Topeka in these cases, limiting their response time if the vehicles are available at all. One occurred in December 2013 when an individual was firing a shotgun randomly at a local hotel. Another occurred when a man barricaded himself in a farm near Zeandale after threatening his family. The most recent occurred in January 2018 where an officer was shot responding to a domestic disturbance and Schoen said he had no idea on the ride to the scene if they’d be able to provide cover in time to get him treatment.
“I think the number of times we’ve had officers shot at and had to deal with barricaded subjects makes that case [for the purchase],” said Schoen. “On the cost benefit side, it only takes on serious injury or death of an officer and we’ll be out more than the cost of the vehicle.”
He said he is aware of the public concern over militarization of police forces, and said that the vehicle is not a military-grade vehicle and that it has “no offensive capabilities.” Schoen said it will primarily be used as cover from gunfire.
Detective Brian Johnson of the Fraternal Order of Police spoke on the issue to the board as well. He said the Order as well as the department as a whole is supportive of the purchase.
“We absolutely need that vehicle for the safety of our officers to safely execute the mission that we have, [it]quite simply has the potential to save lives,” Johnson said.
Manhattan Mayor Pro Tempore and Law Board member Mike Dodson said he was supportive of the purchase.
“We appreciate the fact it’s used as cover and don’t try to militarize it by painting it black or painting it camouflage because you’re not hiding from anybody with those colors,” Dodson said.
Schoen said he has no plans to, and intends to paint it just like any other police cruiser.
Manhattan Commissioner and Law Board member Usha Reddi also approved of the purchase, but also had an eye to the budget. She said Junction City funded the purchase of their Bearcat through a Department of Homeland Security grant, and recommended RCPD look into those grants to help with any future repair costs.
“I don’t know how the Homeland Security funds work for this and if that’s something we need to look at because there will always maintenance issues,” Reddi said. “If a windshield is $8,000 and we’re out there using them, I want to make sure that all of this is taken care of.”
Schoen said RCPD has no plans to “flaunt” the Bearcat in public, and that its use will strictly be limited to training exercises and to respond to specific incidents where they need cover.