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Hall sheriffs office will use grant to get armored vehicle
Vehicle will be used for officer safety during SWAT operations
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The Hall County Sheriff’s Office received a grant to buy an armored vehicle similar to this one.

The Hall County Sheriff's Office will soon have a new addition. It goes by the name Lencho BearCat Armored Vehicle.

The department received a $270,000 grant from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/ Homeland Security to purchase the vehicle.

The Georgia Office of Homeland Security "awards us the grant, but they actually make the purchase themselves and they pay for it," said Col. Jeff Strickland, chief deputy for the Hall County Sheriff's Office. "Then once the vehicle comes in they will assign the vehicle to us."

The multi-use Special Purpose Chemical, Biological, Nuclear and Explosive Rescue and Incident Response Vehicle was requested last January to be used by the Hall County SWAT Team.

Strickland said it will be primarily for officer safety during SWAT operations.

"It would provide a platform for negotiators to negotiate from a safe area," he said. "It would provide cover and concealment for our SWAT Team members when they approach any instance that involves gunfire. It could be used to rescue a downed citizen or a downed officer when gunfire is involved."

In August 2008, SWAT Team members responded to a scene in Lula of a barricaded gunman in a wooded lot that provided officers limited protection. The team was forced to move into the open when they were instructed to fire tear gas into the camper where the suspect was.

One officer was shot and wounded by the suspect.

"I feel fairly confident that had we had this vehicle equipment, we probably wouldn't have had an officer get injured on that day," said Lt. Joe Carter, commander of the SWAT Team.

Carter said he believes the vehicle will allow his team to safely do their jobs.

"It provides a way for us to approach problems where we anticipate gunfire and when the gunfire is occurring and our officers to be safe when they're out in the open," he said.

The armored plating on the vehicle is rated to stop up to a .50 caliber machine gun. Other features of the vehicle include a system to detect radiation and explosive gases, a breathing system to allow officers to hook up to the air supply if they encounter a chemical atmosphere and a hydraulic ram mounted on the front to break through doors.

Currently, the team uses a standard SWAT equipment truck, which would still be used, but the armored vehicle would allow for safer situations.

"At this time we do not have any type of armored vehicle," Strickland said. "This would be an addition and an enhancement to our current SWAT Team," Strickland said.

Carter estimated the vehicle would reduce the chance of an officer being shot or killed by 50 to 75 percent.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 Thursday to approve accepting the grant.

"I don't see this as being something Hall County really needs," Commissioner Craig Lutz said. "It's a lot of money for a vehicle that's just going to, hopefully, never be used."

Carter agreed the vehicle would probably not be used on a regular basis, but said he would feel more comfortable knowing his team can use it for operations.

"It's kind of hard to tell from a SWAT Team perspective what our business is going to be like," he said.

"Hopefully we never have to use it, but unfortunately in the county ... sometimes four or five times a year situations like that do come up."

Commissioner Scott Gibbs also voted against accepting the grant, citing continuous costs to maintain the vehicle and provide insurance.

"Even though it is free, really nothing is free," Gibbs said. "Any time - as we have found out with other grants we have gotten - there are strings attached, that come back forever, so that's my only issue with it."

Carter said the sheriff's department would not increase its budget to include upkeep for the vehicle.

"There are some costs associated with it. I think they're minimal," he said. "The sheriff's department is not asking for anything to be added to our budget; we will absorb the operating costs of this vehicle with the budget as it stands right now."

Carter said the grant is a great opportunity for the sheriff's office and the community.

"This is a piece of equipment that we've critically needed for probably the last 10 years, we've been trying to acquire and this is really a heck of an opportunity for us to get this at no cost for acquisition to the taxpayers here in Hall County," he said.

Staff writer Ashley Fielding contributed to this report.

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