The Dalles Police Department will begin looking for an armored vehicle to provide defensive protection for officers and citizens alike, as the police chief told officials he felt the city was on borrowed time in terms of unacceptable risk to officers.
Police Chief Patrick Ashmore told The Dalles city budget committee in April about the uses of an armored car. “It’s all defensive. It’s all protective for the officers who, frankly, we’re asking them too much nowadays. We’re asking them to do things that people just don’t understand the peril we’re putting them in. I feel very strongly that we’re on borrowed time.”
He said it was not an offensive vehicle. One budget committee member asked if there could be an agreement that weapons would not be mounted on it. Ashmore replied that “they’re not set up for weapons. There’s not one in the nation that sets those up in law enforcement with weapons.”
He said he understood in a small community what it looks like to have an armored vehicle, “you have military vehicles and people think it’s a police authority state thing. We don’t want that image and we won’t use it for that. I’ve seen other communities where they actually roll those out in parades and kind of make it a positive thing.”
Ashmore said, “We aren’t setting up any kind of a militarized state, we understand we’re a small community, and I think if I was able to sit down with people, show people, this is what this is for, this isn’t a scary thing, this isn’t something you need to be afraid of. Come climb up and take a look around, you can see it’s a vehicle with a bunch of armor to protect our officers, and that’s all it is.”
He said armored vehicles allow officers to get close enough to people in crisis to be able to negotiate with them and to use non-lethal measures such as tasers.
“We can’t shoot a taser at somebody 100 yards away. If we get up close to that door we can talk to them, we have throw them phones, we can actually have professionals that can deescalate,” he said.
If they can’t get close, their only option may be to use lethal force, he added.
A budget committee member had asked about the $12,500 earmarked in the 2019-20 police budget for an armored car at the end of a budget committee hearing.
Ashmore said military surplus armored vehicles have “definitely been a controversial aspect of law enforcement. I think people don’t understand what an armored car really is.”
He said it was a rescue vehicle and a defensive vehicle.
“A lot of people think our police cars are what we call hard cover,” he said.
He said the police department has had two incidents in the last year which didn’t make the news in which officers were shot at.
In one case, a man amped up on methamphetamine had a firearm and had assaulted their mother and kicked her out.
“We were out there with absolutely no cover. We had no way of getting close enough to that residence to secure the residence,” Ashmore said.
He said, “We have been very fortunate and I believe we’re on borrowed time. I have police officers that are willing to go to whatever means necessary to protect people.”
Ashmore said currently, if local police need an armored car it is at least three hours away, with one posted in Salem and another in Pendleton.
Hood River County has an armored vehicle, but officers learned “the hard way” that the windshield would not stop a rifle bullet.
Ashmore said the department would get the surplus military vehicle for free.
The $12,500 was for maintenance and to equip it with used lights, equipment and markings. He said just replacing a tire on such vehicles is expensive. He didn’t think the department would use all the money.
He added that it could take up to a year to find the right vehicle.
“It’s a small enough vehicle that it would actually fit in our garage, it’s not a great big tank with a big turret on it,” he said.
One committee member asked if it was a tracked or wheeled vehicle and Ashmore said it was wheeled.
He said the vehicles are safely used hundreds of times a week across the country. He said they wouldn’t be used for search warrants unless it was a real bad situation.
City Manager Julie Krueger was asked how she felt about the armored vehicle. She said, “It took a lot of selling for me because I just have that image of a big old tank running down the street and people thinking we’re nuts, but once he explained it to me, I can support that.”
One budget committee member said one armored vehicle was not an issue for her, “but it does bring up, is it the beginning of a trend of further militarizing the police force, and I think you all do an amazing job and I fully support our law enforcement, but it is a trend in urban areas that is a little more alarming.”
She said, “one vehicle makes a lot of sense it seems, from my perspective, but is it the beginning of a trend of policing in our small town.”
Ashmore said he appreciated the committee’s concerns.
“What you don’t read or hear about in the news is the successful missions. There are hundreds of these a week where they use these vehicles successfully, but you’ll never hear about them because they’re not headlines, because they work.
“You only hear and read about the unsuccessful missions, where lethal force has to be taken.”