BearCat MedEvac | Courtesy Lenco Industries

A Louisville Metro Council committee has moved forward on a measure that would add a new armored car to the city’s police fleet.

The Public Safety Committee approved by a unanimous voice vote Wednesday a resolution filed by Council President David James, D-6, that authorizes the mayor to utilize $425,000 in grant money from the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security “to purchase an armored emergency response vehicle.”

The resolution now heads to the full council.

Sgt. Eric Culver, a member of LMPD’s SWAT team who spoke to the committee in favor of the resolution, identified the model of the armored vehicle as a BearCat. The BearCat, he said, would exist primarily in LMPD’s fleet alongside the department’s Lenco BEAR, an older model which he said is 16-years-old and “is used daily.”

‘There are no weapons on it,” Culver informed the council. “It’s not a tank.”

Jody Meiman, executive director of Louisville Metro Emergency Services, told the committee that the primary purpose of the new vehicle would be to act as an armored ambulance that would allow a kind of medical triage-station to treat victims, officers, and other first-responders in the field. It would also be available to fire, rescue and emergency services, he said.

The new BearCat will also come equipped with a mounted 1,500-gallon-per-minute water cannon, protect occupants against nuclear, biological and chemical attacks, and be able to serve in situations of “civil unrest.”

“We’ve done many things to enhance our response to the horrible things that happen in the world today, and over the years [there’s] been recommendations that the Louisville Metro Police Department have two of these vehicles,” Meiman said. “We’ve put so much emphasis on our active shooter and active aggressor and civil unrest response that we’re looking at a multifaceted, multi-discipline vehicle.”

James, a former police officer, said he sponsored the resolution to improve safety for both officers and citizens by ferrying out of dangerous situations.

“We have incidents quite often where the use of an armored car is important,” James told Insider Louisville. “Just being able to be able to put police officers in situations where firearms are and get citizens out of situations where firearms are is very important.”

The grant application is in its final stages, Meiman said, and will require passage by the full council before the grant funds can be disbursed by the mayor. However, neither a copy of the application nor any supporting documentation have been attached to James’ resolution.

The Lenco BearCat model that most closely resembles the description given in committee testimony is the BearCat MedEvac, which according to the company’s website “can be used as an armored Response & Rescue SWAT truck for dangerous call-outs, and is equipped to provide Tactical EMS with a safe & effective environment to deal with trauma cases.”

Lenco’s website says that it “has produced nearly 5,000 vehicles in over 40 countries around the world,” and is a major supplier “to the US Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Energy, FBI and other high-profile government agencies.”

The website further states:

The Lenco BEAR and BearCat Armored Tactical Vehicles are the most widely trusted SWAT vehicles in North America. Lenco vehicles are in use by over 700 US Federal, State and Local tactical teams to respond to active shooter scenarios, barricaded suspects, response and rescue, and high-risk warrants. Lenco’s primary vehicle, the BearCat, has specialty variants designed specifically for Tactical Emergency Medical Support (TEMS), Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and Bomb Detection, Low Profile Diplomatic Protection and Fire Response.

BearCats have been deployed as far as the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, and as close to home as the 2014 Ferguson riots and the 2017 Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Their versatility has allowed U.S. law enforcement agencies to tailor them for a wide variety of purposes, from putting out fires in conditions deemed too dangerous to firefighting personnel, to urban pacification.

The acquisition of military-grade equipment by domestic police agencies has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, with politicians and activist groups on both sides of the American political spectrum decrying what they see as the militarization of U.S. police forces.

But James said he wasn’t concerned about such perceptions.

“I would simply say that we have armored cars driving around the city all day long collecting money,” he said. “This is no different.”

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Jonathan Meador
Jonathan Meador has covered local and state issues for nearly a decade. He has worked for LEO Weekly, The Nashville Scene and WFPL, and his reporting has appeared in Salon, Gambit and others. He has won multiple awards from the Louisville Society of Professional Journalists, including first-place accolades for best news story, women and minority issues, investigative reporting, enterprise reporting and political reporting. He supports both the Kentucky Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals equally.