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Are We Using Our Armored Vehicles Correctly?



Riding in


·      Texas cops fired on by AK-47, saved by BearCat

·      BearCat to the rescue in Pasadena, Ca

·      Officer protected from shotgun blasts by BearCat in Park Forest, IL

Costing upwards of $250 thousand dollars and capable of stopping .50 caliber rounds, the Lenco B.E.A.R., BearCat, and its variants, lead in the tactical armored response and rescue vehicle category for law enforcement agencies. There are other companies in this category, like OshKosh Defense. However the focus here is not so much on the companies as much as it is on the tactics that we are using with these vehicles/APC’s (armored personnel carriers) in the field of law enforcement, during CONUS operations.  What I will say about both companies is that they build quality equipment and based on your mission profile, you need to decide which way to go.  These vehicles are necessary to getting our missions accomplished in a safe manner and are a necessary tool.  

These APC’s are primarily designed to transport and protect our teams from exterior threats.  As Howe and Pacillas (2009) highlight, they can also be used to create breach points, re-supply, officer/citizen rescue, as distractions, to draw fire, as a blocking element and even to pin suspects in their vehicle. It is in this manner and through member creativity that we get the best out of these vehicles. These tactics as well as operator creativity help us to get the most out of these vehicles.

Stack outside of APC

Over the years we have become accustomed to transporting our teams to the incident by having them hang on to the exterior.  Because we should always be looking to improve upon our tactics and to create dialogue, I ask the question: Why with the increase in armed confrontations, and with the increase in agencies with multiple APC’s, do we continue to transport officers to critical incidents by having them hang on to the exterior of the vehicle where they are the most exposed?  Have we carried over techniques from the past?  Are we seeing images in magazines or online of operators hanging on to the outside and assuming that our team should also deploy like the example in the photo?  Or, is it just more convenient to hang onto the outside handrails, and to stand on the running boards than it is to stuff into the protected interior? 

I began my career in special weapons and tactics in the early 90’s.  Back then, our only option for an armored response vehicle was a recycled USAF Peacekeeper vehicle.  Ours was modified with running boards on three sides and hand holds to allow team members to hang on to the outside.  These running boards were also wide enough to serve as a field expedient litter and we actually did utilize ours in that manner during an incident.  During the same time other agencies around the nation were also utilizing re-purposed military vehicles such as the Peacekeeper or the V-100. Although they needed constant mechanical service these vehicles did their job and took us into and out of the fray.  Plain, low-tech tools that got the job done.  Fast-forward to today and comparing a Peacekeeper to Lenco’s variants is like comparing Fred Flintstone’s car to George Jetson’s space ship.  Improvements in armor, 360-degree protection on the turret, blast protection, cameras, FLIR capability etc., are just some of the major improvements in the new generations APC. 

BearCat and Peacekeeper

Then like today, we rode our Peacekeeper to the target, with a small contingency inside and the bulk hanging on to the outside.  It was a matter of convenience, a way to get the team up.  The small size of the Peacekeeper limited the number of kit’ed up members who could ride and deploy to around five. In addition, it was the only armored vehicle that we had.  In contrast, today’s B.E.A.R. can hold up to 15 while the BearCat can deploy 10.  However as image 1 shows, even with the newer and improved APC we continue to deploy our operators to threat areas by riding on the outside of the APC.  Some agencies may still only have one and this may contribute to the practice, but more and more agencies now have more than one APC. 

So why do we continue to deploy by hanging onto the exterior of our armored vehicles.  For one, the same companies that sell us these APC’s promote the practice in their advertisements.  While they do not overtly promote agencies to ride on the exterior, they do sell the add-on running boards and hand holds as vehicle options.  I feel that continuing to place running boards came about more from the practice and tradition of outfitting our first generation APC’s i.e., at the customer’s request. At the same time, multi-media images online and in entertainment continues to promote the image of the special team riding in on its iron war-horse. 

Having ridden in to operations both in the inside and on the outside of an APC, I can attest to the ease of deployment from the exterior of the vehicle and to the comfort of being on the outside and inside (time of year, summer v. winter).  However, it is not and should never be just about the comfort and ease of deployment, but about getting everyone into and out of the threat area in a safe manner.

It makes no difference if the plan is to ferry-field force officers to demonstrations, or if we are sending in officers on a high-risk warrant, active shooter or barricaded subject.  The risks need to be weighed in favor of safety. So the argument for riding the rails for rapid deployment just does not fly.  Just ask any operator who has been on the receiving end of gunfire on their approach to a target. 

So, what I am saying is this, we need to reevaluate the purpose of the APC and also consider stopping the practice of having our officers riding on the outside during deployment.  There is the cool factor of riding in on the outside, but it is not about that, it is about the tactical and practical of keeping your team safe and alive to get the mission done. I understand that on dynamic situations where shots are being fired that TL’s will stuff their guys inside prior to the approach. However we never know when the situation may escalate to shots fired on approach. Team Leaders need to reevaluate how the APC is utilized in the transportation of their officers.  Through the technology built into them, the new APC’s will get you up to the target and allow you to survey the target and, if safe, to then deploy the team from its womb of safety. 

Consider the following scenarios; and ask yourself if you and your team discussed these issues during training, pre-mission briefing or established immediate action drills to deal with these types of incidents; hats off to those who have.

·      On approach to the target, the suspect fires on the APC, you have officers hanging on to the exterior of the APC.  What are your operators on to the outside going to do; they are kitted up with all of their gear and holding on with one hand. What is the driver going to do?    

·      On approach, the three operators on the right side of the APC are shot and fall, what is the driver going to do?  In the chaos will he know that he has lost members, is he going to turn to provide cover of the downed officers while at the same time exposing the other members who are hanging on the opposite side?  Does he continue to the target where the gunfire is coming from?

Damaged BearCat

So commanders and team leaders let’s consider the information and look at how we use our APC’s to transport our teams.  If you are going to continue in the same manner, then consider the options and develop and train your immediate action drills for Murphy incidents like these.

As team leaders, we assure that mission planning is thorough and that our members deploy with the necessary equipment. We owe it to our operators and to the innocent who are looking for our help to be able to get in and out safely. Practice the ability to fire and to safely reload from within your APC (barrels out of the APC ports to avoid an ND inside of the APC), as well as the ability to quickly deploy for a citizen/officer rescue or to contact.  Develop and improve your immediate action drills, step back and look at how and why we do things and if it needs to be modified then do so. Train hard, stay alive, stay safe and get the mission done.


Lawrence Lujan is a decorated field operations and training sergeant with 20-plus years of service to the El Paso, Texas Police Department. A longtime member of the EPPD SWAT team, he was a key player as team leader, lead firearms instructor and overall tactics instructor of that Unit. Sergeant Lujan brings a very unique set of skills to the law enforcement arena, and has a wide and varied background in leadership, firearms and operational tactics.  Lawrence can be reached at


·; Kevin P. Casey/AP








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