Davis County's BearCat: Excessive or defensive?

Mar 18 2013 - 11:31am

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Davis County resdients (clockwise from top left) Carlos Laguna, Lyn Anderson, Pam McLaughlin, Tamara Werner, Dennis Bergendorf, and David Jennings, shared their thoughts on the Davis County Sheriff Office’s BearCat armored vehicle (center). (BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)
The BearCat armored vehicle sits in the garage at the Davis County Sheriff's Office in Farmington on Tuesday, Mar. 5, 2013. The agency purchased the All Purpose, All Hazards Response Vehicle in 2011 for law enforcement and disaster response assistance. (BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)
Davis County resdients (clockwise from top left) Carlos Laguna, Lyn Anderson, Pam McLaughlin, Tamara Werner, Dennis Bergendorf, and David Jennings, shared their thoughts on the Davis County Sheriff Office’s BearCat armored vehicle (center). (BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)
The BearCat armored vehicle sits in the garage at the Davis County Sheriff's Office in Farmington on Tuesday, Mar. 5, 2013. The agency purchased the All Purpose, All Hazards Response Vehicle in 2011 for law enforcement and disaster response assistance. (BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)

In the eyes of Davis County residents, the BearCat armored vehicle sits somewhere between public safety, police state and the Batmobile.

Since the high-profile use of Davis County Sheriff's BearCat in a chase on Interstate 15 in February, residents' reactions to the vehicle have been mixed.

West Point resident Dennis Bergendorf is one of several people who described the vehicle as "overkill."

"It makes me think 'police state,'" Bergendorf said of the black, 9-ton rig. "I'm just wondering, what would we possibly use it for? I really don't understand why we would need this here."

But not everyone agrees.

"I think it looks awesome," Lyn Anderson said while grocery shopping across the street from the BearCat garage in Farmington. "It seems like criminals are getting stronger and stronger. Anything they can do to keep our communities safe is good."

The Davis County Sheriff's Office purchased the vehicle in 2011 with funding from the Department of Homeland Security. The $250,000 vehicle is intended mainly for tactical use and has been used around the Top of Utah in standoffs, a Salt Lake City bomb threat and, most recently, the high-speed chase on I-15.

In the Feb. 25 chase, police were following a suspected bank robber out of Lehi. As the chase passed through Davis County, the BearCat was brought in and was used to push and stop the suspect's truck. The suspect, Brett Max Knight, was later shot and killed when he raised his gun to the surrounding officers, according to Department of Public Safety spokesman Dwayne Baird.

"It's a bit excessive," Davis County resident David Jennings said. "The same job could have been done with a lot less force."

In the days following the chase, the ACLU approached Davis County in part of a nationwide records request on the use of federally subsidized military technology and tactics by local police forces.

John Mejia, legal director of ACLU Utah, described the timing of the request in relation to the chase as a coincidence.

The Davis County Sheriff's Office is one of 20 agencies around Utah and 225 around the country that the ACLU contacted for records. The purchase of the BearCat was a key reason for approaching Davis County.

Davis County Sheriff Todd Richardson sees the critics of the BearCat as largely uninformed.

"They look at this as being aggressive," Richardson said. "It's not. It's defensive. It's here to keep our officers safe."

"I'm not against technology that keeps police safer," Mejia said. "But we need to have a conversation about increasing fire power before we just do it."

As that conversation occurs, Davis County opinions continue to vary.

"It's kind of intimidating," said Clinton resident Carlos Laguna, "It kind of looks like something we don't really need, like something out the movies. It reminds me of the Batmobile in the new movies."

Clearfield resident Tamara Werner may not agree with Laguna on the need for the BearCat, but they do agree that on the vehicle's intimidating appearance.

"It should be intimidating," Werner said. "I'm not scared of it. I'm not breaking the law. If you're breaking the law, you should be intimidated. You should know there's stuff out there to stop you."

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