Campbell Police Chief Defends Planned BearCat Purchase

Over the last few weeks Campbell has spent time reviewing the city’s five-year capital improvement plan, which included upgrades to parks, streets and the community center.

But, in the midst of a national reckoning over the militarization of police, one item has caught the eye of a group of residents: an armored vehicle.

The Lenco BearCat has been on the Campbell Police Department’s wish list ever since it returned a V150 armored rescue vehicle to the U.S. Department of Defense last year.

Campbell acquired the vehicle as a hand-me-down in 1998 through the Pentagon’s 1033 program, which since the early 1990s has re-gifted military equipment to local police agencies. While Campbell Police Chief Gary Berg argues that a BearCat is critical for SWAT operations, residents have concerns about its hefty cost and the militarization of a police department for a city with a population barely north of 40,000 people.

The police department originally planned on making the purchase in the upcoming fiscal year, but due to the city’s nearly $3 million deficit, Berg said they’ve decided to hold off until 2021-22. The city expects the BearCat to cost $250,200 and has budgeted $62,550 a year for a four-year period starting in 2021.

“This is a crucial piece of safety equipment,” Berg told the City Council at a recent meeting. “The willingness to push it off a year should not be interpreted as this not being needed in our police department. Right now we are relying on other agencies, their equipment to come in when we need help. We’re relying on their policies and procedures and employees who will be operating the rescue vehicle and there’s also issues revolving around communication and potential issues that that may cause.”

In the last 18 months, Berg said the department has needed an armored vehicle 11 times. One of those incidents included a 12-hour standoff with an armed man who had holed himself up at the Denny’s on Bascom Avenue, he said. At the time, the Campbell Police Department had to rely on two other local law enforcement agencies to provide an armored rescue vehicle.

But Berg’s answers haven’t been satisfactory for many community members, especially given the recent conversations around policing in America that were ignited by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop. This month, more than 700 people signed onto a change.org petition demanding that the city reject the purchase.

Campbell resident Stuart Ching, who also serves on the planning commission but spoke to San Jose Inside on his own behalf, said he hasn’t seen a “good rationale” for how purchasing the vehicle is the best way to make the city safe.

“It seems to be put onto the capital plan on the basis of the police chief that we need this armored truck,” he said. “What message is Campbell saying with going ahead in the moment and putting an armored truck in the plan? How are people going to think about this? How are minorities going to think about it?”

Sergio Lopez, a progressive Democrat running for the Campbell Council, says the city should be investing in the community—not military equipment. “The biggest thing I really believe is that we have to use this moment to really invest holistically in public safety,” he told San Jose Inside. “This doesn’t accomplish that.”

Lopez also cited statistics pulled from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program that shows Campbell’s most common criminal offense is property crime. In 2018, the city reported 1,379 property crime offenses. Larceny and theft accounted for the second most common crime with 976 offenses. Violent crime accounted for just 119 incidents.

Although Campbell still has another year to gather more community input, most of the council members have already voiced their support for purchasing the BearCat. Councilwoman Anne Bybee said she didn’t think residents understand the need for it. Her colleague, Paul Resnikoff, argued for the necessity of the vehicle because Campbell abuts one of the worst gang areas in the nation’s 10th largest city.

Mayor Susan Landry told San Jose Inside that she believes the BearCat became a big topic of discussion “because of everything going on right now.”

“I would not say that our police department is militarized,” she said. “We do have a SWAT team. All the police officers are trained in de-escalation.”

Stanford law professor David Sklansky, the co-director of the university’s criminal justice center, told San Jose Inside that there’s been an increase over the last few decades of police department’s acquiring more military equipment.

“The problem with having military style equipment is it tends to get used and it gets used inappropriately,” he said. “The use of military style equipment sends a message to the officers and the community. It pushes against the idea of community policing.”

Sklansky added that it would be more appropriate for towns like Campbell to share this type of equipment with other agencies in the region.

Chief Berg argued that sharing can pose problems—especially in regards to response time. The police chief also said he believes the BearCat is useful for training exercises.

“I’m very proud of how innovative and progressive we’ve been,” he said. “If you go back historically and look at how our officers have been able to resolve our situation, we’ve been very successful because we’ve put a focus on training for officers.”

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

18 Comments

  1. I protest as well!

    It’s missing a firehose.

    BLM says it wants to burn it all down, somebodies gotta put out the fire.

  2. > At the time, the Campbell Police Department had to rely on two other local law enforcement agencies to provide an armored rescue vehicle.

    I’m all for the Campbell Police Department SWATTING bad guys who need SWATTING, but why can’t they continue to borrow the “rescue vehicle” when they need it? Or get one from Hertz Rent-a-tank.

    The costs of ownership are unreasonable for a city of 40,000.

    • Hell just froze over. I never thought I’d read a sensible post from “sjoutsidethebubble” and here it is. Oh well. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, so I’m not celebrating yet.

  3. BLM! Well not so much in Campbell, or Santa Clara, or Cupertino, or Palo Alto, or Los Altos, or Los Altos Hills, or Saratoga, or even in San Jose. But we must militarize against a possible uprising of uppity citizens just incase they gets too uppity. You never know.

    • As long as they pay their rent brother, it ain’t nothin be a thing. There can be no police, too much police, whatever. Police are around so people who would otherwise rob, rape and kill each other don’t. And that barely works.

      Nothing I have is worth stealing, Im too old and ugly to rape, and you’ll have to find me to kill me, so if you want no police, I hope you have the same “privileges” as me.

  4. “In the last 18 months, Berg said the department has needed an armored vehicle 11 times. One of those incidents included a 12-hour standoff with an armed man who had holed himself up at the Denny’s on Bascom Avenue”

    I just read the news story about the Denny’s incident and I don’t see why an armored vehicle was “needed”. Indeed, this seems to be exactly the sort of situation where a trained crisis worker would be more vital than firearms. After the initial incident (during which no shots were fired), the perpetrator (Saunray Winchester is his name, for the record) sat there. Fortunately, no one came to permanent harm, but I imagine the situation could have come to a close much more quickly with a good counselor helping Winchester to believe that, despite what he’d just done, his life wasn’t over, that there were pieces he could still put together to make a better life, and that someone sincerely cared about Winchester’s state of mind.

    In general, it seems like the need for an armored vehicle is extremely rare – even in the most generous list I found online (which, in reading, I found myself questioning several items), it provided 13 examples over the last 14 years of justified Bearcat usage. Well, then, fine – perhaps such vehicles should reside with the national guard and get rolled out in such extreme examples. If you’re rolling out your armored vehicle 11 times in the last 18 months, however, you’ve started to see criminals as enemy combatants and that’s no good.

    ““I would not say that our police department is militarized.””

    I would *love* to know how many Campbell police officers have gone through some sort of “warrior” training after reading that sentence.

    ““We do have a SWAT team. All the police officers are trained in de-escalation.””

    Being trained in something doesn’t mean it sticks, especially if other training conflicts with that. De-escalation isn’t just a training course, it’s a mentality, and I cannot believe that a SWAT team lives and breathes by the principles of de-escalation in the same way that a specialist in de-escalation might.

    • Exactly, unless it is like the movie Heat and they are firing rounds of automatic weapons at you an armored vehicle is overkill. Of course cops jumping out of an armored vehicle does provide a photo opportunity for their friends to pass around.

  5. I am so impressed so many people in the states have criminal justice degrees. The amount of knowledge they have of what works and what does is really amazing. American are so smart, thanks for knowing so much.

  6. Hey, what police department doesn’t need an armored military assault vehicle! Heck a few other neighboring cities have one or want one and poor old Campbell wants one too. Won’t make policing any better but boy ol’ boy we sure look good going down the quiet streets of Campbell. Time to put away childish things….(1st Corinthians 13:11)
    Maybe hiring more educated cops is the answer.

  7. If the Campbell police chief insists they need a militarized armored vehicle I will insist that Campbell needs a new police chief.

  8. If you’re interested, this interview explains how some of our police departments became militarized. We (the US) spend so much money on the military, that they literally have more hardware than they know what to do with. So they kick down the surplus to police departments. Now military contractors, like the maker of the Bearcat, are marketing their products to police departments.

    https://www.npr.org/2020/07/01/885942130/militarization-of-police-means-u-s-protesters-face-weapons-designed-for-war

    https://www.amazon.com/Rise-Warrior-Cop-Militarization-Americas/dp/1610394577

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