San Leandro may place limits on proposed armored police vehicle

A Lenco Bearcat MedEvac on loan to the San Leandro Police Department on display for public viewing Thursday before a public meeting at the San Leandro Senior Community Center. 
PHOTOS/Steven Tavares
A speaker addresses the city’s police force 
and City Council Thursday evening.

SAN LEANDRO | San Leandro residents and opponents of their police department’s decision to apply for a state grant for an armored personnel carrier voiced skepticism over the proposal at a public meeting Thursday night.

However, when the issue comes before the San Leandro City Council for discussion in early February, they will like approve the expenditure, some members told the East Bay Citizen, but with specific stipulations for its use in the city.

Three San Leandro council members separately indicated the City Council could, for instance, forbid the police department from using the vehicle in non-medical situations, such as quelling a protest within its borders. The vehicle’s purchase is proposed for use in medical emergencies.

San Leandro Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli said the department will recommend a policy to the City Council in coming weeks and welcomed input from city leaders. “There’s policy that comes from the city and policy that comes from various departments. So, there’s a balance,” she said.

The armored vehicle is equipped for handling
medical emergencies in dangerous situations.

However, even if San Leandro city officials place their own limits, it doesn’t mean other law enforcement agencies borrowing the Lenco Bearcat MedEvac for use in their cities can’t use the vehicle however they please.

Spagnoli likened it to differing policies in some city’s police departments for the pursuit of alleged suspects on the road. San Leandro Police, for instance, have their own rules for pursuit, but once a suspected vehicle enters another city, the rules may differ.

The Bearcat MedEvac armored personnel carrier lent to the city last November was on display for public perusal Thursday evening. The black, oversized armored truck configured like an ambulance has not been deployed, said police, but several officers have taken it for a test-drive. The loaner was meant to give the public an idea how the roughly $33,333 in asset forfeiture proceeds would be spent, said police and city officials.

Despite a brisk 30-minute presentation by police extolling the vehicle’s benefits as a regional asset available for other East Bay jurisdictions, but also its ability to save lives, a few speakers described the vehicle as “scary” and “intimidating.”

“You can’t fool us,” said JP Massar of Oakland. “Just because you painted ‘Rescue’ on the side, doesn’t make it any less of a military vehicle.”

Few residents publicly backed the plan in what was a noticeably restrained conversation, especially for a current hot-button issue like the militarization of local law enforcement seen in places like Ferguson, Mo.

“It’s a dangerous world out there,” said Jeff Wald of Fremont. “It’s unfortunate that we have to consider getting vehicles like this, but public safety officers need to be protected.”

Two former San Leandro public officials, who recently ended their terms in office, both backed the purchase. Stephen Cassidy, the former mayor, told the new council members he supports the plan and also urged them to discuss placing limits on the vehicle’s use.

Diana Souza, who ended two terms in office last month, said the armored vehicle would provide a sense of safety for residents and police when in harm’s way. Souza acknowledged fear the vehicle may project to some, but noted it won’t be patrolling city streets. “If your life is in danger and you see something that can save your life, that’s going to make you feel good,” said Souza. “That’s when we’re going to see this vehicle.”

The pending state grant for the vehicle, police, instead, call a “Regional Rescue Vehicle,” stems from a joint application by the San Leandro Police, Fremont Police and Fire and the Alameda County Fire Department. San Leandro Lt. Randy Brandt, said Thursday, it was the Fremont Police who first approached the city about the grant’s existence.

San Leandro is one of the few cities in the East Bay without a similar armored personnel carrier, said Brandt. In addition, while other versions of the Lenco Bearcat exist in the region, none are equipped with medical rescue equipment, said Brandt, which bolsters the grant application.

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