Archive for July 12, 2012
Don’t Mess with Inspector Johnson’s “Toys”
DETROIT — Here in Detroit, iron doors and homemade fortifications don’t keep drug gangs and barricaded gunmen beyond the reach of the police, thanks to the DPD’s armored personnel carrier (APC).
The 13-ton, four-wheel, bullet-resistant behemoth has a hydraulic boom to batter down doors.
“We call it the ‘Key to the City of Detroit’ because it can open any door,” says Inspector Donald Johnson Jr., head of the police department’s Homeland Security and Tactical Support operations.
Detroit police got the APC in 1988 from the military and have been using it ever since to convince suspected lawbreakers to ‘Open up in the name of the law.’
Detroit averages 45 barricaded gunman calls a year, Johnson told the Military Vehicles Exposition and Conference in Detroit’s Cobo Center today (Thursday). “Instead of putting officers in harm’s way,” he explained, the APC is used to take down the door. Usually after that, “the individual elected not to play with us,” Johnson added.
The APC has also been used to rescue Detroit cops trapped behind a car or building by hostile fire, to pick up a wounded citizen lying in the street during a gunbattle and to serve search warrants on the fortified lairs of drug and outlaw motorcycle gangs, said Johnson. The aging APC requires a lot of maintenance, he said, adding “we have had some challenges” keep it running.
Two years ago the Police Department acquired a more modern Lenco Bearcat with the aid of a law enforcement grant. Johnson said the Bearcat cuts down on the number of police vehicles needed to respond to situations like a civil disturbance or hostage siege. Police have used its infrared sensor to spot a fugitive hiding in the brush of a vacant lot at night, said Johnson, who calls the armored vehicles his “toys.” He oversees 18 units including the bomb squad, hostage negotiators, gang enforcement and the Special Response Team.
Since 9/11, cities like Detroit have obtained APCs through federal homeland security and law enforcement grants. New York and Los Angeles are among those that have them. But citizens in other cities and towns from Berkeley, California to Keene, New Hampshire have questioned the need for authorities to acquire armored vehicles.
The Detroit P.D. holds an annual Family Day to introduce the community to the department and its assets such as robots, aviation units and the APCs. Residents’ reaction to the APC and Bearcat have been generally positive, Johnson said. Public officials and community leaders have been more resistant to the concept of high tech surveillance technology like unmanned aircraft, citing privacy and civil liberties concerns. The city council voted against funding for a police request to acquire computerized accoustic detection technology that pinpoints when and where a gunshot was fired.
Johnson said he’d like to acquire another APC but budget constraints have put those plans on hold.
The conference, sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement, ends Friday.