Since the situation in Ferguson has escalated, protesters and even local groups have criticized police departments’ use of armored vehicles.
Fond du Lac Police Chief William Lamb said in the last three years, his people have shot at his officers twice. While police understand the inherent risks that come with the job, Lamb said he owes it to his department to protect them as best as he can.
“We have an obligation to those officers to provide them with the training and the resources that they need to safely go in and take care of that and to make sure that they make it home safely to their families at the end of the day,” Lamb said.
Lamb pointed to a specific situation that took place in Fond du Lac in December 2013.
First responders were called out to a fire, but the incident quickly escalated into an active shooter situation. Lamb said the suspect fired 26 rounds in all, two of them coming from a .50 caliber rifle. He said standard vehicles cannot shield officers from military-grade weapons like that.
“Obviously, you can't achieve the same things from a safety standpoint without that tactical ballistic protection,” Lamb said.
The Fond du Lac force had just gotten its armored vehicle, called a Bearcat, three weeks prior to the tactical situation around Hickory Street and Main Street. He said without three armored vehicles there, the other two coming from neighboring agencies, his department would not have performed a crucial rescue mission successfully.
“We would not have been able to safely extricate those innocent civilians from the building the shooter was in without having three vehicles,” Lamb explained, “two to maintain a parameter on that building, the other to get that rescue team right up to the building.
Brian Landers, who trains future officers at Madison College, was on a state advisory committee for police tactics and training when another situation in Fond du Lac came to light. This one was caught on camera by news crews, and Landers recalled watching the tape over and over again.
“I think it reaffirms those people who may doubt the weaponry or the equipment that is needed in today's law enforcement,” Landers said.
The situation happened in 2011. In the video, police are rushing a young woman into an armored vehicle after a suspect perched above them in his home shot and killed a Fond du Lac officer and injured another.
Police eventually exchange fire with the suspect from that armored vehicle as it drives away.
Landers said while he understands the recent criticism of military vehicles being repurposed for law enforcement use, people are judging the tactics based on emotions and a solitary situation in Missouri. He said video like the one from the 2011 situation in Fond du Lac is proof that officers need that kind of protection.
“The skills and tactics, some of the weaponry, some of the protected devices that were only used for SWAT applications ten years ago are now being used and implemented with day-to-day uses of law enforcement,” Landers said. “And it’s not to become a more aggressive state of law enforcement. It's become a safer state of law enforcement. Why would society not make their police force safer?”
The Dane County chapter of the NAACP plans to meet with Madison Police Chief Mike Koval in the near future about the city’s use of military vehicles. They came out against the tactic in a meeting Tuesday night.