Portland Police to Use Army Tank for Civilian Law Enforcement
by David Hench Portland Press Herald April 13, 2009
Portland’s M113 armored personnel carrier will be painted a neutral black and will require some
work before it’s ready to hit the streets. U.S. Army photo
The department receives two armored personnel carriers for free from the Department of Defense; one is for parts.
The Portland Police Department is packing some heavy armor these days – 10 tons, give or take.
The department is in the process of configuring an M113 armored personnel carrier – affectionately referred to as a "tank" – for civilian law enforcement.
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The track-driven military vehicles were offered for free as surplus property by the Department of Defense last fall, and Portland police got two of them. One will be used for parts, since maintaining the old vehicles is difficult.
Lt. Gary Rogers sits behind the wheel of the Portland Police Department’s refurbished vehicle.
Photo by Doug Jones / Portland Press Herald
"A lot of people look at it and say it's too much," said Capt. Ted Ross, head of operations for the department. "The benefit is to reduce the danger and exposure to danger for our officers that could be approaching a hostile or armed confrontation."
There is no longer a turret-mounted machine gun, but Portland does plan on equipping the vehicle with a retractable battering ram – just in case officers need to force their way into a barricaded building.
"Anything we can do to make the officers and the general public safer, we're willing to do," Ross said. "We hope we never have to use it."
Besides, they were free.
There are examples of when a department might need a heavily armored vehicle.
In Pittsburgh on Saturday, three officers were shot by a man with a high-powered assault rifle while they were responding to a domestic confrontation. When nearby officers sought to rescue two officers injured in the shooting, the only vehicle they had nearby was a standard panel van. They draped body armor over the windshield for protection.
The gunman did not fire on the van, but one of the retrieved officers died anyway.
Portland decided to apply for the armored personnel carrier last year because its 1980s vintage special reaction team vehicle was on its last legs.
"It wasn't all that reliable," said Lt. Gary Rogers, head of the special reaction team. "There were times when we would go to use it and it wouldn't start and we'd leave it in the garage."
A new armored police personnel vehicle costs between $185,000 and $200,000, money the department did not have, so the city pursued the M113.
"It was obtained with the intent of having something that would stop bullets," Rogers said. "Although it may not be ideal for us in an urban environment, it will stop bullets."
The department has since been able to obtain a homeland security grant to refurbish its old vehicle. In addition to a mechanical overhaul, the vehicle cab was affixed to a new, extended dual-wheel chassis, allowing it to be enlarged to carry more people.
The refurbished special reaction team vehicle, dubbed "Peacekeeper," fits 10 people in a steel-encased cargo compartment in addition to a driver and a passenger in the front. It has a shielded turret on top and handrails and running boards on each side, which allows officers to use the vehicle's steel-plate sides as protection from gunfire.
The back is large enough to load an injured person inside for medical treatment.
The vehicle was pressed into service its first day back from the shop in February, when the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency executed a "high-risk" search warrant on Portland Street, at a reputed drug house where guns were present. No shots were fired.
The "Peacekeeper" is more suited to an urban environment than the armored personnel carrier because it runs on tires and is therefore more maneuverable.
But the M113 is no slouch. The vehicle can do 40 mph and its linked tracks have rubber pads so they won't damage the road. It gets 2.3 miles per gallon.
The vehicle is still sporting its Army camouflage paint job, which will be painted over with a more neutral black, and it will require some work before it is ready to hit the streets.
Once it is, members of the special reaction team can start training with it and devising scenarios for when it would be useful, said Rogers.
The Tucson Police Department has had an armored personnel carrier since 1994 and uses it 12 to 15 times a year for mobile cover, rescue and evacuation.
Email staff Writer David Hench or call 791-6327
Source: Portland Press Herald