St. Pete Police get armored vehicle but say it won't be used for Republican convention

07/31/12 Janelle Irwin
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The City of St. Petersburg has purchased an armored vehicle less than one month before the kick-off event for the Republican National Convention. But team leader for the St. Petersburg Police Department’s SWAT unit, David Gerardo, said the more than $200,000 expense isn’t related to the massive event being held at Tropicana Field.

“Really, that’s just total coincidence as far as timing.”

And Mike Puetz, spokesperson for the agency, doesn’t expect protesters, journalists or delegates at the event in downtown St. Petersburg to ever see the truck.

“I would say at this point there’s absolutely no plans to utilize this vehicle for the RNC.”

The engine in the more than 15-ton militarized trucks growls.

It can transport 14 officers comfortable and more if needed. The BearCat has one and a half inch-thick steel armored bodywork and ballistic glass that is capable of taking multiple hits from gunfire and protect occupants from some explosives. It has a roof turret where officers can emerge from the defensive and go on the offensive. David Gerard will be one of the officers using it.

“This is a 2012 Lenco BearCat. It’s an armored rescue truck that’s built on the chassis of a Ford F-550. It’s been, obviously, highly modified.”

It was purchased using money from criminal seizures – like the sale of cars that were used during the commission of a crime – not from taxpayer dollars. Gerardo said the agency began planning how to fit the nearly quarter million dollar piece of equipment into their budget after Officer Jeff Yaslowitz and Sergeant Tom Baitenger were killed in a stand off last January.

“You had officers that morning taking cover from gunfire behind a dump truck that was commandeered and that’s just not an acceptable situation and I think that the Chief after evaluating all of that, looked at the situation and decided that an agency our size, we needed to have this piece of equipment available to us in the event of any type of situation where officers might have to go into the line of fire to rescue someone.”

The city of Tampa purchased two armored vehicles using some of a $50 million federal grant for security during the Republican convention. Those funds were earmarked for items and services directly related to security during the week of the convention. But Gerardo maintained the agency will only use the vehicle for rescue situations which aren’t expected during the August 26th event.

“It would give us the ability to move into an area to conduct the rescue of either an officer or a civilian in a situation where that area that we need to move into to conduct such a rescue would normally be unavailable to us because of hostile gunfire – someone shooting at us.

Gunfire, Gerardo added, is the only circumstance where people can expect to see the massive BearCat on the prowl.

“Barring those types of situations, I would say it’s probably unlikely.”

St. Pete Police spokesperson Mike Puetz agreed.

“If some unforeseen event were to take place where suddenly gunfire was an issue – that would be the only set of circumstance you would ever see a vehicle like this.”

But SWAT officer Gerardo who also refers to his unit as the TAC team, said even remote, the possibility is still there.

“It can be used in conjunction with duties that the TAC (Tactical Apprehension and Control / SWAT) team is carrying out with our chain of command on the team and it can also be used by patrol officers under the correct set of circumstances and that has to be authorized by a watch commander, so a lieutenant out in the field or a higher rank.”

Officials on both sides of Tampa Bay have come up with tight security plans around the areas where most of the Republican National Convention activity will be. In St. Petersburg, that’s Tropicana Field and parts of downtown. A police training video released last month warns officers about so-called anarchist groups that come with the sole intention of causing trouble. Mike Puetz, spokesperson for the St. Petersburg Police Department, said even if those groups are here, he doubts they’d cause enough trouble to warrant the use of an armored vehicle.

“Most of what you would see at an event that we anticipate at RNC would be protests of various types. Some of it might involve some element of violence, but so far, based on the history of these things we don’t see gunfire or those types of things at this type of event.”

The City of St. Petersburg is trying to work another armored vehicle into their fleet that was donated by a South Florida law enforcement agency. That vehicle is not as heavily militarized and would be used for surveillance and as a crime deterrent in areas where drug use and sales are prevalent.

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Who watches the watchmen?

"It was purchased using money from criminal seizures – like the sale of cars that were used during the commission of a crime – not from taxpayer dollars. " When so many of your seizures are from nonviolent drug offenders, it might as well be tax payer dollars. Fuck this police state shit.

First off, it doesn't matter if the seizures were from violent or non-violent drug offenders. They broke the law to make a profit, therefore any illicit gains are susceptible to seizure. If they wanted to start a business to make money it should have been a legitimate one, they knew the risks of dealing drugs. Secondly, if there is an active-shooter type situation or something like it where this vehicle would be deployed, I would like to see you having the responsibility of stopping the shooter go up against him/her with just a plain, non-armored car to hide behind. I bet you'd sing a different tune when you're the one walking into gun fire.