In Sept. 2017 city commissioners approved allotting $335,000 in funding for the Plant City Police Department to purchase an armored tactical vehicle.
Once approved the car was hand built and after it was completed two officers flew north to the warehouse in Nov. 2018 to begin training for the BearCat vehicle. It arrived in Plant City in December and teams have been working with the vehicle to learn its ins and outs so they are prepped and ready if an emergency should arise.
“This is a piece of equipment you hope you’ll never have to use, but if you need it, it’s worth every penny you pay for it,” Police Chief Ed Duncan said.
For Duncan, the purchase was a no-brainer. In storms, like the hurricanes that have struck over the past few years, all first responder vehicles are called off the road when winds exceed 45 to 50 mph. The BearCat allows units to be safely deployed and assist in any emergencies.
Outside of natural disaster situations, the vehicle can also be used to save lives. Prior to Duncan’s tenure, PCPD faced a fatal incident where a vehicle like the BearCat could have made all the difference.
Members of the PCPD SWAT team said they believed the incident took place in 2002. There was a call about a domestic violence incident and when officers arrived at the scene they found a woman lying in her front yard, a bullet wound preventing her from crawling away to safety.
The gunman was in the house and the team could not safely get between the shooter and the victim to remove her from the premises.
Eventually, they strapped ballistic vests to the side of a vehicle and quickly drove in to rescue the woman. But it was too late.
In 2001 PCPD responded to an active shooter at a Save-A-Lot warehouse on Amberjack Blvd. One employee was wounded and the gunman set fire to the office before he surrendered.
If there were ever a need the city would call neighboring groups, like Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, to bring their vehicles to the scene. Every minute spent waiting for the vehicle to arrive is a minute the department couldn’t spare and Duncan said it was time PCPD had one of its own.
“This tremendously enhances our ability to respond to a multitude of incidents,” Duncan said. “Really and truly it has such an enhancement for our force. The capability of that piece of equipment is only limited by your imagination.”
When Duncan was with HCSO they purchased similar vehicles for its inventory. That was more than a decade ago and the same vehicles are still going strong. With care, Duncan said you can get anywhere from 20 to 25 years out of each piece of equipment.
In 2017 when the budget for the vehicle was approved several outside groups protested the decision. Duncan said despite their complaints to commissioners and the media they never asked him for a meeting.
He knows some people may not approve of the purchase, but he has no hesitation saying he will defend it until the day he dies.
“People may say, ‘Well how often does that happen in Plant City?’ But look at Pulse, look at Parkland. Do you think anyone thought it would happen there?” Duncan said. “This is a preventative action. It’s another tool in our toolbox to use.”
The rise of school shootings is something Duncan doesn’t take lightly. Unfortunately, authorities now prepare for a “when it happens,” not an “if it happens” scenario.
Several Plant City school grounds are massive in size, making it a potential nightmare if someone with nefarious intent were to ever set their sites on local school children.
Having the BearCat at the ready means officers can barrel into a conflict zone without having to hesitate or make sure they slowly and safely clear the area.
Their response time is heavily reduced and Duncan said he’ll always take the heat for being over prepared than having to live with the consequences if they didn’t have what they needed in a time of crisis.
The entire team assigned to the BearCat has operational knowledge of the vehicle. There are designated drivers and though it is relatively easy to drive it is 19,000 lbs — approximately the size of an ambulance — and will be steered with caution.
Duncan wants the public to become comfortable with the massive equipment so he plans to showcase it either at a city commission meeting or possibly in the Strawberry Grand Parade. He said he doesn’t want the public to get the wrong impression with the vehicle and to view it as a life-saving tool.
“This is going to only enhance our ability as a department,” Duncan said. “I have no regrets about the purchase. We are better off serving the public with this in our inventory.”