Officials defend purchase of SWAT vehicle
The Medford Police Department's brand-new, $260,000 SWAT truck just arrived at headquarters this week, and it's already taking fire from people who argue the vehicle is a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Readers on the Mail Tribune's website and Facebook page quickly chimed in with their thoughts. Most were highly critical of the crime-fighting machine.
"Nothing but a waste of money that could of been used where it is needed ... this is NOT needed," commented one Facebook reader.
"This is why I no longer support more taxes for law enforcement," wrote another reader. "Give them money and they buy useless toys. Wasted tax dollars!"
Another reader suggested the armored van, which sits on a massive Ford F-550 chassis and is fitted with a revolving gun turret on the roof, belongs in a war zone and not on the streets of Medford.
Medford City Councilor Bob Strosser said the armored truck is a necessary tool that will make the city safer.
The Medford City Council voted to allow the department to purchase the truck in May. The department asked the council for permission to use money from equipment and fuel savings from previous budgets to buy the vehicle.
Strosser said police departments throughout Oregon use the trucks. The Jackson County Sheriff's Department deploys a similar vehicle as part of its SWAT team.
"This issue came down to one of public safety," Strosser said. "We looked at the information and decided this vehicle could not only save police lives, but also civilian lives."
Medford police Chief Tim George said the truck most likely will be used approximately 20 times a year during high-risk SWAT team call-outs. These calls usually involve suspects who are armed or who are known to carry and use weapons.
The truck was deployed on Nov. 29 when the SWAT team was called to the 3000 block of Shelterwood Circle in north Medford.
Police officers arrested Antonio Ledesma Miranda, 29, on charges related to a shooting at a local Mexican restaurant that wounded a man.
In addition to aiding in arrests, the truck could be used to evacuate residents should there be a violent incident or a natural disaster in a neighborhood, police said.
George said the truck can carry several people to safety from a mass shooter who has a neighborhood on lockdown.
"If we can get this truck between innocent people and a suspect with a long rifle who is firing off rounds, then that is a good tool for us to have," George said.
The truck could also get negotiators within close range of a barricaded suspect who might have taken hostages within a residence.
"The truck has the capability to get us close to this person so we can talk to him from a loudspeaker," George said. "Often, this is the best way to diffuse a potentially dangerous situation. And if we can get close without putting the negotiator in danger, then that is the best option."
Some have commented on the steep cost of the truck. The cash, they say, could be better used to hire more officers or build a new police headquarters.
George said that doesn't pan out financially.
"Each one of our officers, when you factor in salary, benefits and other things, costs about $100,000 per year," he said. "So if we took the money from (the SWAT van) we would only have money for two officers for two years."
The SWAT van is a one-time purchase, and department officials expect the vehicle to last for 20 years if maintained properly.
The new truck replaced older vehicles that broke down several times a year and cost a lot to constantly fix, Medford police Deputy Chief Tim Doney said.
"We had an incident once in which one of the old vans was having maintenance issues on the way to the call," Doney said. "We didn't know for sure if we were even going to make it to the scene."
The way the department sees it, buying this new truck would keep the city from throwing good money after bad by dumping funds into faulty vehicles year after year.
Strosser said the City Council believed the truck was a necessary piece of equipment, though the sticker shock of such an item was noted in the decision to purchase the vehicle.
"Did we wish the price had been lower? Certainly," Strosser said. "But, unfortunately, this is how much these vehicles cost. And we think it will save lives."
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.