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Police borrow MRAP to capture gang-related fugitive

Rows of heavy-vehicles and accessories fill a retrograde yard destined for shipment at Camp Warrior, Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Oct. 2, 2013. Oklahoma police used a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle to capture a fugitive who has ties to a violent street gang.

BEN BLOKER/U.S. AIR FORCE

By JOY HAMPTON | The Norman Transcript | Published: November 28, 2017

NORMAN, Okla. (Tribune News Service) — On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, an armored vehicle rolled down the block of a normally quiet Norman neighborhood.

For some residents, the idea of an armored vehicle driving through a residential area is a nightmare come true, but police officials say its use led to a nonviolent resolution in the Ward 2 neighborhood.

“The vehicle gave us an opportunity to control the situation, which led to it being able to end peacefully,” Norman Police Chief Keith Humphrey said. “None of the people in that neighborhood had any issues with that vehicle.”

The armored vehicle was in and out of the neighborhood quickly, he said.

“Residents in that immediate area were very thankful that we had addressed this issue because they had observed suspicious activity,” Humphrey said. “When you do research on these type of vehicles, they show a high rate of immediate surrender and de-escalation because the individuals feel that they don’t want to deal with that. Later, when suspects are interviewed, they say they feel when the police department deploys this type of resource, they take the situation more seriously.”

On Nov. 21, the Norman Police Department received reports that a fugitive felon from Alabama was in a home in the 1200 block of Greenbrier Court, information officer Sarah Jensen said.

It was reported to NPD that the individual had numerous guns inside the residence, along with ties to a violent street gang. Based on that, SWAT team was activated to serve a search warrant on the residence.

“The intelligence we had received was that this was a potentially violent street gang with a cache of weapons and surveillance around the house,” Humphrey said. “For the safety of the officers and the residents in the immediate area, we felt the only way to approach it was to utilize this vehicle.

“There was the potential to have to evacuate that area if they people had failed to come out and surrender.”

Norman does not have an armored vehicle but requested mutual aid from Moore. The neighboring city brought in a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, most commonly called an MRAP, to assist Norman in the search warrant.

The fugitive was taken into custody without incident.

Poised on the cusp of Oklahoma City, Moore’s population is about 61,000, approximately half of Norman’s population. Moore purchased its armored vehicle in April 2014, just a year after police vehicles had multiple flat tires in areas affected by May 2013 tornadoes.

“It can do high-water rescues, things like that,” Moore Police spokesman Jeremy Lewis said. “We’ve used it on a couple of barricaded subjects to get officers close to talk to suspects, but other than that, it hasn’t been used. I think we’ve used it maybe three times.”

Moore, like many cities, purchased the armored vehicle as military surplus.

“It was, like, a couple thousand dollars; it was very cheap,” Lewis said. “A BearCat that is used with police stuff is, like, $250,000 or $300,000. They’re used for high-risk warrants. You wouldn’t want to approach a situation like that without one.”

In a letter to members of the Norman City Council reporting the event, City Manager Steve Lewis said the vehicle was used “to transport team members, including negotiators and tactical medics, to the front of the location.”

The fugitive felon was one of two people taken into custody, and police found multiple weapons and illegal items inside the house. The matter remains under investigation.

An armored vehicle has been on the Norman SWAT team wish list for a number of years. In August 2015, the Norman City Council put a police department request to purchase a Lenco BearCat on indefinite hold. When the topic was brought up again at a finance committee meeting in October 2016, Ward 2 City Council member Aleisha Karjala said the city had “bigger fish to fry.”

Amidst pushback from residents who said they fear police militarization, the council let the matter drop.

Between 2010 and 2012, the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department, the Oklahoma City Police Department and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol acquired similar vehicles from Lenco Industries. In 2014, Guthrie purchased a surplassed MRAP, and Edmond purchased a vehicle from Lenco Industries.

And while Moore, Guthrie and Tulsa are among cities that have taken advantage of low-cost, surplussed MRAPs, Norman police leadership believe the BearCat would be a more practical, less militarized choice for the city. While an MRAP can weigh 16 tons or more, a BearCat is eight to nine tons.

“The MRAP is significantly larger than the BearCat,” Humphrey said. “It’s not as maneuverable. It’s not as versatile [as the BearCat].”

Called an all-purpose rescue vehicle, police planned to purchase the BearCat from Lenco Industries Inc., for $280,000 using money from the city’s Seizures and Restitutions Fund. The vehicle was to be used for defensive and rescue actions including tornadoes, flooding, ice and snow, as well as University of Oklahoma home football games.

“Unlike military armored vehicles, the BearCat is built on a commercial truck chassis as a platform and is readily serviceable at local dealers and independent repair centers,” according to Lenco. “The BearCat is replacing military surplus vehicles in many departments and is providing police and the community with a safer and more reliable vehicle to protect against gun violence.”

BearCats sell for about $200,000 to $275,000, depending on optional equipment, and have an expected life cycle in law enforcement of about 20 years, Lenco said.

Currently, there are no indications that the city council is ready to reconsider buying a BearCat. Ward 1 City Council member Kate Bierman said residents expressed concern about the possible purchase of an armored vehicle when she was knocking doors during her campaign at the beginning of the year.

“That was definitely a topic that was brought up to me at the time,” Bierman said. “I’m not aware that it’s going to be an upcoming topic of discussion any time soon.”

Sheriff Todd Gibson said the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office does not have a SWAT team or an armored vehicle.

“We have a Humvee, but it has no armament, and it’s really only used in parades and special Touch A Truck events,” Gibson said. “They’ve had it for some time.”

©2017 The Norman Transcript (Norman, Okla.)
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