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Police put van on 'most wanted' list

The Medford Police Department has decided now is the time to trade in the "bread box" for a new high-tech Special Weapons and Tactics van.

The agency hopes the Medford City Council will approve the purchase of a $200,000 LDV Inc. SWAT Command Vehicle during today's noon meeting in Council Chambers in City Hall.

The SWAT vehicle will replace a 1973 Chevrolet step van that once served as a linen truck. The department bought the converted truck in 1990, said Medford Police Chief Randy Schoen.

Schoen recently referred to the old van as the "bread box" to an evidence technician.

"We did the best we could to make it into a SWAT van," Schoen said. "It just became too difficult and expensive to maintain."

The old van was purchased for less than $2,000 from a company in Eugene. A Medford police officer and cabinet maker took the time to fit the van with closets and shelving to hold radios, computers and other communication equipment, Schoen said.

The Medford police SWAT team comprises 16 officers who signed up voluntarily to join the unit. SWAT teams engage in high-risk arrests, often against armed suspects.

"We need a van specially made for this purpose," Schoen said. "The problem with the old van was that its electrical system could not support the things we wanted to do."

The old van routinely breaks down, chewing through alternators at a high rate, Schoen said. The van currently has a shiny newer looking alternator tucked beneath the hood.

"Sometimes we hesitate to shut if off because we are not sure if it will start again," Schoen said.

In addition, the chassis was not built to hold the heavy equipment and personnel dispatched to a crime scene, Schoen said.

SWAT vans are costly, with this version running just over $200,000. Schoen is confident the new command vehicle will last 20 years.

"Considering the mileage we got out of the old van, the new one should be around for a while," Schoen said.

Schoen acknowledged the department does not have a lot of SWAT call-outs, but the van will be used as a communication center this summer during presidential candidate visits and will report to major crime investigations such as homicides.

"We will also use it for public demonstrations," Schoen said.

The new command vehicle will join the department's SWAT fleet, pieced together from two converted armored cars donated by banks and another department and the "Peacekeeper," which is an armored vehicle shared with the Central Point Police Department.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 774-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

The Medford Police Department hopes to replace their SWAT van with an updated $200,000 tactical command vehicle. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch