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West Valley City Journal

Lowering risk: WVCPD emphasizes safety with new rescue vehicle

Jul 28, 2017 12:55PM ● By Travis Barton

WVCPD was authorized by a unanimous vote from the city council to purchase an armored rescue vehicle for its SWAT unit. The vehicle is designed to keep officers in safe positions while engaging in high-risk situations. (Courtesy of WVCPD)

The West Valley City Council unanimously approved a resolution for the police department to purchase a fortified rescue vehicle to use when dealing with high-liability encounters such as active shooter situations and high-risk search warrants. 

Police Chief Lee Russo, in his presentation to the city council, said there’s been a shift in tactics towards police both locally and nationally that makes officers active targets. 

“To have this kind of rescue equipment to support operations, to facilitate rescues, we think will remove human assets and protect lives,” he said. 

The vehicle approved for purchase, a BATT X armored rescue vehicle, will be operated from the inside with the outside armor capable of withstanding a .50 caliber round. It has wider door frames to allow quick entry and exit by the officers. It could also be used in natural disasters. 

Currently, officers engage in what Russo described as a dynamic approach into houses or buildings where they enter clearing the place room by room. The department’s SWAT team parks its van a few houses away and then approaches on foot. 

With this vehicle, Russo said they’ll engage in a “surround and call out” tactic. The National Tactical Officers Association has advocated for this approach the last 10 years. 

“This allows us to not put [an officer] in a high-risk situation and initiate from a protective position,” Russo said. 

A multi-angle hydraulic ram, the largest selling point for Russo, is attached to the front of the vehicle and operated from within. This is meant to allow for engagement on higher level buildings whether with radio or video contact or if an explosive charge is needed.  

“So we don’t have to place an officer inside, we don’t have to throw a phone inside and we can stay within the safety of the vehicle,” Russo said. 

Russo said it could be ordered with a water gun, or fire hose, on the front to have alternate strategies of disarming suspects. Russo gave one example of the fire hose pushing people out from under porch decks. 

The concern was raised from councilmembers about this vehicle edging them towards militarization of the police department, that a vehicle like this could invite a war zone. 

But Russo emphasized the vehicle’s use as a de-escalation tactic and that it is modified for police use in a civilian marketplace. 

“It’s not going to look like the Batmobile,” Russo explained. The arm, in particular, he said, minimizes risk and is less militaristic. 

In November 2016, the police department lost its first ever police officer in the line of duty, Cody Brotherson. Councilman Steve Buhler said prior to passing the resolution, that though this vehicle would not have saved Brotherson’s life, it can help officers in the future. 

“Given the current climate, I think we need to take whatever action is recommended and encouraged by those on the front lines,” Buhler said. 

Russo said the county and the state both have a vehicle, though it would probably take a few hours to reach a situation in West Valley City. 

He also estimated the $240,000 vehicle—money coming from the police department’s budget—will be used around two dozen times a year. 

“If it saves one life, this will certainly pay for itself,” Russo said.