The final piece is in place for the purchase of a new emergency response vehicle for the East Cascades SWAT Team. 

The East Wenatchee City Council approved the expense Wednesday, joining fellow SWAT Team members Wenatchee along with Chelan and Douglas counties. 

East Wenatchee Police Chief Rick Johnson says the new BearCat vehicle is far different from military vehicles, which have fallen out of favor for use in civilian police forces. 

"The Lenco BearCat is not designed or described as a military vehicle, a tank of any kind," said Johnson. "It is a civilian purposed vehicle marketed to law enforcement, specifically in the United States." 

An order will now be placed to purchase the BearCat, which will replace one of the East Cascade SWAT Team's fleet of three military surplus vehicles. 

Johnson says the military vehicles offer ballistic protection but are otherwise not designed for police use in a civilian setting.  

The military vehicles, known as MRAPs, sit three and a half feet off the ground, which exposes police officers when their trying to use the vehicles for cover. In addition, the MRAPs are top heavy and have a typical weight of 32,000 lbs., making them impractical for travel in many urban and rural settings. 

The Bearcat, in contrast, is much lighter (17,000 lbs.), lower and more maneuverable and useful for police departments. 

The use of military surplus vehicles in civilian settings has come under heavy criticism in recent years, and the Washington State Legislature had a bill in 2021 to outlaw them. 

Johnson says the proposal was defeated when local police agencies and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs convinced law makers there were no alternatives such as the BearCat at the time. 

He says another positive with the Bearcat is that it can be used at public events, unlike the military vehicles. 

 "It is purposeful that we don't bring out the DRMO (military) ones because they are a controversial topic, so that we're not using them in parades," Johnson said. "We're not using them at city type events." 

The city of Wenatchee is paying the up front cost of the BearCat, about $400,000. The other three SWAT Team members will then reimburse Wenatchee for their share of the cost within 90 days of delivery, now thought to be sometime in the latter part of 2024. 

The cost breakdown has Wenatchee, Chelan County and Douglas County each paying $112,467.62 with East Wenatchee chipping in $60,000 to cover Bearcat’s cost of $397,402.85. 

Johnson said East Wenatchee successfully lobbied to pay a smaller share, 15 percent, because the city is smaller and will use the emergency vehicle less often than the counties or Wenatchee. 

Delivery of the BearCat will take about a year once the purchase order is placed.

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