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Milpitas: Police aim to get armored tactical vehicle to fight crime

Milpitas police intend to purchase a vehicle similar to this Lenco BearCat MedEvac to be used by its SWAT unit as well as medical personnel during crisis. Courtesy of Lenco Armored Vehicles

The Milpitas Police Department expects to acquire an armored tactical vehicle to aid its SWAT team during criminal incidents or other calamitous events.

The City Council voted unanimously May 2 to approve a mid-year budget appropriations request to get a Lenco BearCat MedEvac and a structure to store it in. According to city reports, the vehicle features hardened walls and blast-proof windows that protect passengers from high caliber ballistic and projectile attacks.

The MedEvac — meant to respond to natural disasters, violent crime, criminal mass casualties such as shootings or acts of terrorism — will cost $406,465 and be funded from the city’s capital improvement program fund. The cost for the storage facility is earmarked at $25,000, city staff reports state.

“This is a vehicle that is armor-plated and it will enable us to insert our SWAT team and/or medical professionals into a ‘hot zone,’ where there is armed confrontation so that we can safely extract victims of a mass casualty event or an active shooting incident…and safely treat the victims quick,” Interim Police Chief Steve Pangelinan told the council at its May 2 meeting.

Pangelinan added the MedEvac is not an ambulance. “It will have some medical supplies and have enough room where we have…doctors and EMTs on board, where they can immediately treat the victims,” he said.

The police chief noted the impetus to obtain the vehicle was largely a projected increase in criminal incidents as Milpitas’ population grows and the Bay Area Rapid Transit starts running later this year near the Great Mall.

In the past, Pangelinan said Milpitas police have had to request such armored vehicles from neighboring cities like San Jose, Sunnyvale and others.
“Our SWAT team uses assets like this frequently; pretty much every jurisdiction around us has one, if not two, of these types of vehicles,” Pangelinan said, adding Milpitas police have never owned one. “We have to rely on our law enforcement partners.”

He said Milpitas’ SWAT team — typically used for hostage situations, barricaded armed suspects, high-risk search and arrest warrants or locating suspects known to be armed and violent — gets deployed an average of four times a year within city limits.

“And when we deploy them we will call our partners in the area to see if they have something available for us to borrow,” Pangelinan said. “There have been instances where we’ve not been able to use it because it’s not available anywhere.”

At the May 2 meeting, Councilman Garry Barbadillo asked the police chief if he believed the city really needed such a vehicle.

“Strongly,” Pangelinan replied. “I anticipate an increased deployment of my SWAT team in the years moving forward with mass casualty events. … I mean we see it all the time on the news; thankfully we’ve never had an episode like that that we’ve had to manage.”

Pangelinan said he did not want to wait for such an incident to take place without an armored vehicle in place.

“I could get a call in the next five minutes that my SWAT team is needed somewhere,” he said. “If I have to give an order to deploy them, I’m going to be uncomfortable doing that if I know I’m not giving them the equipment they need to safely do that.”

In response, Barbadillo said he would support acquiring an armored vehicle for police.

Councilman Bob Nunez acknowledged that crime rates are on the increase all around the country and are expected to rise here too, particularly as Milpitas further develops.

“There’s going to be great things that are brought to us by BART but some things aren’t so great,” Nunez added.

Likewise, Mayor Rich Tran said he believes the need for a better-equipped police force is real.

“We know what’s coming in our future and we’re going to do what the Boy Scouts of Troop 92 taught, which is to be prepared,” Tran said before voting.

“These additions are going to save lives, it’s going to save many…I don’t have to think twice about supporting this item.”

Pangelinan did not respond to further questions about when the department plans to purchase or receive the MedEvac or other details about the equipment.

MFD rescue vehicle

At the same meeting, Milpitas Fire Chief Rob Mihovich confirmed that like the police force, his department would also receive a new type of rescue vehicle in the near future.

Mihovich said the vehicle would essentially serve as an unofficial ambulance, bolstering but not replacing ambulance services provided by such private agencies as Rural/Metro.

“It’s a rescue vehicle,” Mihovich told the council. “It has capabilities to transport victims.”

Mihovich added the vehicle — which according to the department cannot be referred to as an ambulance for legal reasons — would be a “huge benefit to the community.” The fire chief also echoed Pangelinan’s concerns over the need for more public safety equipment with mass casualty events appearing on the rise.

After the meeting, Deputy Fire Chief Rick Frawley said a new unit within the fire department will man the rescue vehicle, which has also been approved by the Santa Clara County Emergency Medical Services Agency.

“The projected deployment date is January of 2018,” Frawley said, noting the rescue unit will be staffed by Milpitas fire personnel. “The unit will have vehicle rescue extrication equipment, lighting capability and technical rescue resources.”

He added the unit could also transport critical patients when the county-contracted ambulance provider is delayed.

“This will enhance the level of service to the community by providing an additional resource during critical incidents,” he said.

Last year, Milpitas had approximately 300 medical incidents in which a fire-based transport unit could have initiated transport, he added. Frawley noted the cost of the vehicle is $660,000.

“This cost includes the advanced life support equipment and rescue elements required for deployment,” he said. “It’s going to be going out to bid.”