San Leandro Police Face Opposition in Push for New Armored Vehicle

The BearCat MedEvac, which the San Leandro police would like to purchase. (Andrew Stelzer/KQED)

San Leandro residents sounded off Thursday night about the potential purchase of an armored transport known as a BearCat, objecting to what they say is the militarization of local law enforcement

More than 100 people came out to the San Leandro Senior Center to get a look at the vehicle, called a MedEvac, which is advertised as "an armored Response & Rescue SWAT truck" and which police say will be used primarily for rescue operations throughout the region. Protesters chanted "No Thanks, No Tanks," while police officials showed off two stretchers from the vehicle.

San Leandro police Lt. Randy Brandt called the MedEvac a "regional asset" and said it is unique in the region. He added that San Leandro used a similar vehicle for nine operations in 2013 and 2014, but had to borrow it from nearby law enforcement agencies.

San Leandro PD Lt. Randy Brandt addressing the special city council meeting
San Leandro PD Lt. Randy Brandt addressing the special City Council meeting (Andrew Stelzer/KQED)

Fremont police Capt. Kimberly Peterson said her agency would also benefit from the purchase of the vehicle, which would be used throughout the region.

"EMS doesn’t go into those hot zones. They don’t go into the danger area until its cleared, and that could be hour, " said Peterson, a former SWAT team member. “So if you want the ability to get people in there safely, meaning your first responders, whether it's police, fire, EMS or all three at once, then you need something like this."

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But most of those who spoke opposed the acquisition. They pointed out the numerous gun ports as an indication that the vehicle would not be used just for medical emergencies.

“Seeing that vehicle outside, it didn’t make me feel safe. It made me feel like, 'Why am I being put in the middle of a war zone?' " said San Leandro High School student Elise Jones.

Several others referenced Ferguson, Missouri, where similar armored law enforcement vehicles were brought out to quell protests, but some say inflamed an already tense situation.

"That thing rolling into the front yard of someone’s house — that’s an escalation," said Tracy Rosenberg.

"Oscar Grant died at Fruitvale Station not far from here because something escalated. Eric Garner died because something escalated. The things that we don’t want to see happen, the unjust extrajudicial murders that are tearing this country apart, happen because of the escalation of situations.”

Local High School students said they don't want San Leandro to turn out like Ferguson, MO.
Local high school students said they don't want San Leandro to turn out like Ferguson. (Andrew Stelzer/KQED)

The BearCat would be largely funded through a $200,000 state homeland security grant.  San Leandro Mayor Pauline Cutter said guidelines would be established before a decision is made at a February City Council meeting.

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“What I wanna do is make sure that we have a policy out before we use it, and people can see what it's used for -- we're not gonna use it every day -- and weigh in on it,” Cutter said.

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