Frederick police are looking to buy a new armored vehicle — like the county sheriff’s office recently did — even though records show the vehicles are rarely used.
Frederick Police Chief Edward Hargis initially included $375,000 for a Lenco armored tactical support vehicle in the department’s budget. He said in a hearing May 10 before the Board of Aldermen that there weren’t any similar vehicles in the area.
County Executive Jan Gardner just approved the $274,216 purchase of a Lenco BearCat for the sheriff’s office March 10, according to data obtained by The Frederick News-Post through a Maryland Public Information Act request.
In a letter justifying the purchase to Gardner’s office, Sheriff Chuck Jenkins wrote: “Recent ballistic tests on the sheriff’s office’s current tactical vehicle showed serious deficiencies.”
Jenkins did not return three calls over a two-week period seeking comment for this story.
Meanwhile, the 1984 Dodge Peacekeeper obtained by the Frederick Police Department from the federal government in 2007 is no longer ballistically rated, meaning that bullets could potentially go through it, said Lt. Clark Pennington, a department spokesman who oversees the department’s tactical team.
“If we were to deploy that vehicle in a situation where small-arms fire was being used, would the armor in that vehicle hold up? ... To put officers into a situation we don’t even know if we have the armor for, we believe that would be a negligence on our part,” Pennington said.
But, based on the numbers, the money used to buy the new vehicles would be better spent on training or different equipment, said Karl Bickel, a former second-in-command of the sheriff’s office. Bickel lost a 2014 election to Jenkins and recently retired from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Records obtained from the sheriff’s office show that, while the agency’s tactical team was deployed 27 times from July 2014 to April 19, 2016, its armored vehicle was used only twice. One was a barricade situation on July 13, 2014. The other was a barricade situation on Nov. 22, 2014.
Of the 25 times the Frederick police Special Response Team deployed in 2014, 2015 and so far this year, its armored vehicle was probably used twice, Pennington said. He did not specify what the calls were about.
The department does not track specific cases when the vehicle is used, said Capt. Dwight Sommers, who oversaw the tactical team before a recent promotion.
“There’s too few circumstances that you really need it and in those circumstances, there are vehicles that you can easily borrow from other agencies that you have mutual agreements with,” Bickel said, noting that both Montgomery and Washington counties own armored vehicles.
The Frederick Police Department dropped the vehicle from its 2017 budget proposal, but Hargis mentioned it in his “wish list” during his presentation, prompting Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak to ask if the department had contacted other agencies to work with.
“There are vehicles south of us. Getting them here in a reasonable amount of time is the question,” the chief replied.
Sommers brought up another concern on Thursday during an inspection of the department’s vehicle at the city’s Department of Public Works facility.
“It’s a case-by-case situation. If the closest one available to us is Montgomery County, but it’s rush hour? Then we’re not calling them,” Sommers said. “It’s easy to say ‘call down the road,’ but if ‘down the road’ next week is Baltimore, how long is that going to take?”
Complications could also arise from the sheriff’s office or another agency operating in Frederick in a high-risk scenario, Pennington said.
“We each have our own tactical teams. We each have our own use-of-force policies. We each have our own special operations division that runs tactical situations, and to have that resource available to us when we need it is imperative,” he said.
Bickel acknowledged the concern, but he argued that the sheriff’s office and city police cooperate on a daily basis. The shooting at Frederick High School — which records confirm did not prompt an armored vehicle deployment by either agency — caused both agencies’ tactical teams to be activated. State troopers responded, too.
Jenkins’ proposal mentioned Fort Detrick and the presidential retreat at Camp David as potential high-risk terrorist targets in the county. While the sheriff’s office must respond to potential attacks, it “lacks the appropriate equipment to do so safely and effectively,” the proposal states.
Bickel argued that Fort Detrick and Camp David, secured by the Army and the Marine Corps, respectively, were hardly the “soft” targets terrorists usually focus on. He questioned whether the vehicles would be used in scenarios such as a school shooting, which was also mentioned in Jenkins’ proposal.
“The active-shooter training that is being done now is you go in as soon as you possibly can to neutralize the situation,” Bickel said. “It’s dangerous, but if it’s an active-shooter situation, then people are dying. You aren’t going to wait around for an armored vehicle.”
Armored vehicles are most useful to allow police to safely approach a dangerous situation where they may take fire, such as approaching an armed person who is barricaded in or to rescue someone injured during an ongoing shooting, Bickel said.
The purchase order for the sheriff’s office’s new BearCat was made March 16 and the estimated completion date is approximately 240 days after receipt of the order, according to the price quote.
Funding for the BearCat came from reimbursement money the agency receives for housing Immigration and Customs Enforcement inmates, as well as from cash and other assets seized in drug arrests, Jenkins told the County Council in a budget workshop April 21.
Frederick police have not identified any immediate sources of funding for their vehicle since it was dropped from the budget, Sommers said.
“We’ve been looking since 2008 or 2009. To be honest, we always knew this was going to be temporary,” Sommers said, gesturing to the Peacekeeper on Thursday. “We just didn’t know it was going to be 10 years ‘temporary.’”