A new BearCat armored vehicle was purchased by the Santa Maria Police Department last week with the help of the city's police council, which paid for more than half of the new piece of equipment.
The four-wheel drive vehicle, which cost $291,646, can provide protection from small arms fire and transport a team of police personnel to perform a variety of missions, according to Santa Maria Police Chief Marc Schneider. BearCats are typically deployed in high-risk situations that can include barricaded suspects, active shooters or warrant services involving firearms.
"It is essentially a protective shield on wheels," said city spokesman Mark van de Kamp. "Although it is not routinely deployed, it is critical to protecting our personnel and achieving our mission of providing safety for our community."
The department took possession of the BearCat this month and now has two such vehicles.
A $150,000 donation along with $141,646 in matching funds from the city's asset forfeiture account was used to purchase the new armored vehicle, said City Manager Jason Stilwell.
Santa Maria's asset forfeiture fund, which fluctuates throughout the year, is replenished with proceeds from cash seized in illegal activities that then is distributed to the agencies involved in the operations. The fund will have about $200,000 left after the BearCat purchase, according to van de Kamp.
The Santa Maria Police Council, which purchases support equipment for the Police Department outside the agency's operating budget, donated the $150,000 via a private donor who wishes to remain anonymous, Stilwell said.
State law allows the city to accept any gift for its police officers as long as it's used in their official capacity or for a public purpose.
Council members unanimously approved the purchase during their Feb. 16 meeting as part of the agenda's consent calendar, which includes routine items that often are approved without debate. Councilwoman Gloria Soto, however, questioned the need for the new vehicle.
Police officials said they needed a new BearCat, which has a 20-year lifespan, to replace a 1977 military surplus Peacekeeper vehicle that was mechanically unreliable and inadequate for protection against bullets, according to van de Kamp, who compared it to a fire department purchasing an engine.
"It'll be able to provide additional rescue capability and officer safety, and public safety out in the field," Stilwell added.
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