FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Armored vehicles were used to protect officers and stop the threat in San Bernardino after the mass shooting. It happened on live TV and has shed a new light on the debate about these types of vehicles being deployed in city streets.
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said, "The citizens of our community depend on us to be that last line of defense, to go out and to stop individuals like we saw yesterday."
Chief Dyer said his officers are ready for anything and an armored vehicle called the Bearcat is always on standby. In San Bernardino, two similar vehicles were used to box in an SUV and help officers move in on a man and a woman suspected of killing 14 people and injuring 21 others in a holiday party massacre. "They're violent, they're armed with assault rifles, and the only way we can safely approach is through the use of these vehicles," Dyer said.
The vehicles have been mired in controversy. After the Ferguson riots, there was public outcry and concern over what many called a militarization of police. The federal government supplied departments across the nation with an armored fleet. Merced County has an MRAP vehicle, Clovis Police also has one and Mariposa County has a Bobcat. The Bearcat in Fresno County, however, was purchased with a grant. "It's not whether or not you have equipment from the military, it's how you use that equipment," Dyer said.
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims agrees. She says the Bearcat is used sparingly, often times for marijuana busts and stand-off situations. "People would probably jump to conclusions, have knee jerk reactions not understanding how this type of equipment can help keep law enforcement safe in those situations."
In the world we live in, where mass shootings are happening more frequently, Chief Dyer says the armored vehicle is now a necessity. "These incidents are not going to stop, they're going to continue to occur throughout the United States and it's important that law enforcement be prepared."