Standing in the shielded gun turret of the Kalispell Police Department’s new armored SWAT vehicle, wearing a tasseled cap with earflaps, it’s hard not to feel like Mike Dukakis circa 1988.
No doubt the Kalispell Police feel a little self-conscious too, driving the $300,000 Ballistic Engineered Armored Response vehicle (BEAR) on a Dec. 17 media tour, four days after receiving it as a donation from Flathead County resident Don Abbey.
The 15-ton BEAR holds up to 30 people, features armor that can withstand bullets and explosives, and has multiple gun ports out of which officers can safely shoot. The size of a semi tractor and painted matte black, it has sirens, loudspeakers and a turret sitting on top.
During a demonstration of the vehicle for local media, Police Chief Roger Nasset says that the “intimidation factor” of the vehicle alone could stop incidents before they start.
Detective Sergeant Tim Falkner says the BEAR could be used in hostage rescues and negations, bomb threats, confrontations with armed suspects, and other instances that would normally be hazardous for officers.
Falkner says local law enforcement could have used the BEAR in late October, when two armed fugitives holed themselves up in a Creston trailer and fired shots at police.
“This would have been invaluable,” says Falkner.
During the tour, Nasset drives a quartet of local reporters from the downtown police station to the Flathead Valley Community College parking lot a few miles north, where he parks it for photo opportunities.
Some people stop and stare at the vehicle. One guy snaps a photo with his camera phone. And others walk or drive past as if a black, 15-ton armored vehicle parked in front of the college were an everyday occurrence.
On the way back to the police station, Falkner tells the Independent he expects a mixed reaction from the community on the imposing vehicle, but he’s confident it will be a positive addition to local law enforcement.
“If it even saves one life, it will be worth it,” he says.