The Killeen Police Department is adding more than $1.4 million worth of equipment to its fleet in an ongoing effort to provide efficient and safe work tools to police officers, the police chief said.
After a lengthy discussion during Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council unanimously gave Police Chief Dennis Baldwin the go-ahead to buy 20 new fully equipped Chevrolet Tahoes and a new SWAT vehicle.
The $300,000 ballistic armored tactical transport (BATT) vehicle will be added to the department’s arsenal, replacing its 1977 SWAT vehicle. The 37-year-old vehicle was acquired from the U.S. Air Force through the Defense Department’s 1033 program, which allows surplus military equipment to be used by police. It will go back to the military when replaced by the new BATT vehicle.
Councilman Steve Harris said he received concerns from residents about the police department becoming too “militaristic.”
Baldwin said because of the realities that law enforcement deals with, it has become somewhat paramilitary; however, there are differences.
“I think we are able to separate where we need to and I’m hoping that we’re displaying the equipment we do have in a proper fashion and respecting those that we serve, and not making it that kind of militaristic environment,” he said. “We do use some of the same equipment (as the military). Some of the stuff the military uses came from the policing profession.”
An example Baldwin used to demonstrate how the department separates itself from the military was that it decided against going with a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle through the DOD’s 1033 program.
“Yes, it’s free, but it was made for combat. It’s not made for policing operations, and they are different,” he said. “We can adapt things from the military to be used, but it’s better if we can find something on the market, like the BATT vehicle, that is tailored to policing functions.”
The SWAT team uses the vehicle an average of 75 to 100 times a year, Baldwin said. It’s used for various tasks, including extra protection for when dignitaries visit the city, in executing high-risk warrants and arresting suspects believed to be armed and dangerous.
Baldwin said the armored vehicle “proves the safest environment to confront the ever present tactical incident, increasing the officer’s potential to return home safe at the end of each day.”
According to city documents, the department will purchase the BATT vehicle with funds from the city’s general fund.
The 20 Tahoes come with a price tag of about $58,000 each totalling $1.15 million.
The purchase of the units is written into the 2014 fiscal year’s budget, and funds will come from the city’s general motor vehicle fund and the red-light enforcement fund.
Baldwin said the size of a sport utility vehicle provides more efficiency and room for a police officer’s equipment.
“A sedan is a lot smaller than we would like,” he said. “We have to think about the prisoners we transport. They come in all shapes and all sizes. We’ve got to be able to maneuver them in and out of that car. SUVs are bigger and there’s more room. Not to mention, all the equipment (officers) carry. Some carry flares, different types of evidence processing items. ... If they’re a (tactical) officer they would be carrying that with them on duty. When factoring in all the things they carry, that small (sedan) is just not user-friendly.”
The demand for equipment is a “never-ending task,” Baldwin said. The department’s evaluation, maintenance, replacement of and need for equipment is always placed at the forefront during the annual budgeting process.
“(The fleet replacement program) ensures the replacement of aging vehicles that are operated daily under high structural stress situations in emergency response to the needs of the community making sure the safest and most operable equipment is on the street,” he said.
Some of the 20 new patrol units will replace units in the department’s existing fleet that are nearing the end of their lifespan because of age or wear and tear. It’s required that 25 percent of all new vehicles go into the patrol fleet, while the remainder are individually assigned to officers.
Baldwin said once a unit is phased out of the department’s fleet, it’s given to the academy for training puposes.