Police across Canada rolling out armoured vehicles

Friday, March 26, 2010 , Posted by TJ at 5:48 PM

Article by: Douglas Quan
Canwest News Service

They're big. They're bad-ass. And they could soon be barrelling down a street near you.

Numerous law-enforcement agencies across the country have recently acquired armoured vehicles for their tactical operations.

The Ottawa Police Service on Wednesday unveiled their BearCat — sort of like a Hummer on steroids. And RCMP in British Columbia announced this week that they had acquired two six-wheeled, all-terrain vehicles from the Canadian Forces.

Armoured vehicles are also in use in Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Victoria and several other municipalities.

Police forces say these bulletproof vehicles — none of which are equipped with any artillery — provide an extra layer of protection for officers when responding to dangerous situations, such as gun calls or high-risk search warrants.

Authorities say they also help protect the public in situations such as in hostage-takings.

"It's certainly a comfort to be able to deal with the calls we go to using the protection of a vehicle like that," said Ottawa Police Const. Jim Hutchins.

The Ottawa service purchased its Lenco BearCat for $341,147. The vehicle's oversized tires allow it to go off-road and its height offers improved visibility, police said.

The vehicle will be used by the department's tactical team, which responds to about 50 incidents each year and is tasked with protecting Canadian government buildings, embassies and consulates. The team also responds to incidents at the Ottawa International Airport.

Unlike Ottawa's armoured vehicle, which was manufactured for police use, the B.C. RCMP's armoured vehicles — known as TAV IIs and which can travel up to 120 km/h — were originally designed for military use and have since been retrofitted.

The vehicles, which were acquired free of charge, are necessary because of Metro Vancouver's escalating gang violence, said RCMP spokesman Sgt. Peter Thiessen.

"Gang members are well-armed. Many times we have to be in a position to respond to that and ensure our safety as police officers," he said. "We know what these individuals are capable of doing."

Thiessen said an armoured vehicle was deployed earlier this week when officers went to execute a search warrant at a home in Surrey, B.C. The occupants in the home came out peacefully, he said.

Is it possible that the mere sight of the vehicle could make criminals think twice about engaging police?

"Visually, it is an aggressive looking piece of equipment," Thiessen said. "It does look intimidating."

Robert Gordon, director of Simon Fraser University's school of criminology and a former police officer, says armoured vehicles might make sense in the United States where there's a wider availability of guns, but he wonders whether they're necessary in Canada.

"What kind of urban warfare do police services think they're going to be encountering?" he said. "I think there is an element of this equipment being purchased because it's new toys for boys."

Gordon said, in his opinion, the line between civil police service and military service in the country is blurring.

"We're talking about the streets you and I occupy. We're not talking about Kandahar," he said. "What will they do next? Drive them into the fronts of people's houses?"

Staff Sgt. Kirk McCallum of the Calgary Police Service, which acquired a Canadian-made Armet Balkan MK7 for $250,000 in 2008, said Gordon's remarks are short-sighted.

He said his agency's armoured vehicle is used on a weekly basis.

It is not uncommon for officers to drive the vehicle, which is equipped with lights and sirens, right onto someone's lawn, he said.

"We have to go into those dangerous situations. This let's us safely do that," he said.

McCallum cited the remarks of Alberta provincial court Judge Peter Ayotte, who led an inquiry into the 2004 shooting death of RCMP Cpl. James Galloway by a mentally-ill man west of Edmonton. In his recommendations, Ayotte wrote that having access to an armoured vehicle "almost surely" would have prevented Galloway's death.

"What value do you put on the cost of a life?" McCallum said.

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