[Editor's Note: Several readers asked why Albany , after the considered purchasing one with two other local law enforcement agencies earlier this summer. Albany Police Chief Mike McQuiston explains.]
Thank you for your inquiry concerning the (Bearcat). As you know, the proposed joint-use Bearcat deal is . I previously told you that I had planned to bring the matter before the City Council before the end of the year, but the equipment grant procurement process was moving faster than anticipated, resulting in the potential loss of the opportunity to communicate with our community and prior to the vehicle’s arrival. City Council needs to have the opportunity to weigh in on policy direction on acquiring or not acquiring this equipment, and has asked me to keep Council informed if the issue should ever arise in the future.
You have also asked about the intention behind this proposal.
Many people may not know that the Albany PD maintains a Crisis Response Unit (CRU) to provide specialized support in handling critical field operations where intense negotiations and/or special tactical deployment methods are required. The CRU consists of two specialized teams: the Hostage Negotiation Team (HNT) and the Tactical Response Team (TRT). Personnel assigned to these teams perform their role as a collateral responsibility to their normal duty. The HNT provides us with the ability to use skilled verbal communicators to deescalate and effect surrender in critical situations where suspects have taken hostages, barricaded themselves, or have expressed or displayed suicidal tendencies. The TRT officers are specifically trained and equipped to resolve critical incidents that are so unusual, complex, or hazardous that they may exceed the capabilities of our first responders or investigative units including, hostage taking, barricaded suspects, specialized searches and other high-hazard incidents. More often however, the TRT is used to serve high-risk warrants, where specific public or officer safety issues warrant the use.
Some time ago, the police departments of Albany, Berkeley, and UC Berkeley formed a working group to enhance multi-agency coordination through joint training and shared mutual aid equipment. We are each faced with challenging budget issues and this is one way of maintaining safety while lowering training and equipment costs. One of the things this working group did was to seek out grant funding for the acquisition of a Bearcat armored rescue vehicle (ARV). The operating concept was that each agency would have access to the Bearcat for training and emergency use, and would essentially share the costs of maintenance and use on a prorate basis. ARV’s are presently in use by law enforcement in other areas of Alameda County and could be deployed to Albany under certain circumstances if the need arises. Albany PD intended to partner on this particular acquisition in order to improve our access to and the availability of an ARV such as the Bearcat. By having the Bearcat under local control it would be subject to local use policies and our emergency personnel would be familiar with it (having trained in it) in the event it was needed, it could be deployed on-scene faster and lessen the likelihood it would be unavailable.
What kind of event would precipitate the use of such a vehicle? The short answer can be found in the original grant proposal: "Having this resource in this portion of the [county] will allow a rapid response to events involving on-going gunfire and/or the potential for coming under fire during the response." No one should want to think about extreme violence occurring, but when it does, the police are responsible for responding and resolving the situation. The long range and high power of commonly available “civilian” versions of military assault weapons compromises our ability to respond effectively to these threats if they should surface in our community. Make sure you read the preceding sentence a few times over to really get the significance of that statement.
For example, last month our CRU was activated for an emergency in Albany involving a suicidal individual who was threatening to kill himself with a gun (there was also another person in the home with him at the time). Fortunately, one of our trained HNT members was on duty and able to talk to the subject on the telephone and quickly convince him to surrender to officers outside his home (it was resolved so quickly the need for a full CRU deployment was mitigated). Officers notified the Mental Health Mobile Crisis Team to respond and address the mental health issues at hand, and police secured 26 handguns and rifles from the house. Every one of these 26 weapons is legal to possess in California. Among those firearms were two military grade assault weapons (AR-15 & AK-47) and the infamous FN five-seven “cop killer” pistol, designed with the intent, and capable of firing bullets that penetrate our protective body armor (a single shooter with an FN five-seven pistol killed 13 people and wounded 29 in a single shooting at Ft. Hood, TX, in 2009). I’ve attached a photo that includes the three guns mentioned. Thankfully this recent incident ended peacefully, but there were several potential scenarios with much more violent outcomes.
The firearms that permeate our society pose very real threats to our community and our police employees. I believe it is my responsibility to consider any reasonable means of equipping and preparing Albany police officers to effectively deal with the consequences of illegal life-threatening actions, accordingly I’m willing to explore proposals that protect the officers charged with responding to these threats so that they might perform their most dangerous assignments more safely. In such an event, if Albany PD needs the ARV I would prefer to have this equipment available ASAP than be forced to wait for a similar vehicle during a prolonged response from another agency in the county, or worse, forced to act (or not act) without it. A locally controlled and available asset like this would provide us better options for specialized police operations, and help keep us ready to fulfill our mission to safeguard our community, while lowering risk to our emergency responders.
The use of such a vehicle can extend to all aspects of public safety. About a year ago, an El Cajon police officer was shot by a man who’d already shot and killed his 14-month-old daughter and mother-in-law. The officer was critically injured but on the wrong side of the “no man’s land” in front of the suspect’s home. Due to the exigency of the situation officers improvised a rescue with a police car. Later, when an ARV did arrive on scene, it was used to allow firefighters to get close enough to the suspect’s home to try to stop the spread of a house fire he set before it began burning down the neighborhood.
If we have a need to rescue an officer or community member, aid in the evacuation of a school, search a neighborhood in our community due to an incident involving firearms or gunfire, negotiate with a hostage taker or even fight a fire from a protected position, a vehicle such as this would be a great tool to have readily available. Moreover, to have one available (at extremely low cost) for training in advance of such a need is equally appealing, but as I said at the outset of this email, the current proposal is no longer under consideration. I hope this email is helpful in answering the questions you have about my recent intention.
Mike McQuiston, Chief of Police