Trick My Ride
By Lieutenant TI Goetz - Orignally published HERE
The Lenco BearCat is an incredible vehicle, but it’s not perfect. If you’ve ever tried to stuff a fully equipped SWAT team into the back of one those babies, you’ll know what I mean. SWAT dogs carry so much crap these days; invariably pieces end up littering the floor of the BearCat like electronic components in a tweaker’s living room. If you’re not getting poked in the eye with the pick or stubbing your toe on the ram, you’re tripping over the extra ammo or gas rounds.
With so much gear lying around, your carefully planned exit at the mission site can end up looking more like a goat rope than the carefully choreographed dismount you imagined. Having experienced more than their own share of mishaps involving free-floating, forgotten or misplaced gear, the Hawthorne PD SWAT team came up with some relatively simple BearCat modifications, designed to get some of that gear up off the floor and out of the way, yet still keep it readily accessible.
There aren’t too many administrators willing to let their $250,000-plus BearCat get “modified” by a bunch of testosterone-enhanced gunslingers. Understandably, they tend to get a bit concerned when such types request clearance to start welding parts or re-wiring electronics, like they’re doing some high school auto shop project. Fortunately, many of the department bosses, including the Chief, are ex-SWAT officers themselves, so the idea of a few “tweaks” wasn’t met with the predictable “are you nuts?” response. To be fair, the team didn’t exactly bust out the garage welding kit and go to town either. Key Steel, a professional steel fabrication shop (unfortunately now defunct), was brought on to do most of the work. The South Bay Regional Communication Center, which not only dispatches for police and fire in our region, but also builds out our police vehicles, was brought in for all things electrical. Combined with our teams’ ingenuity, the end results were pretty useful.
Finding some place to store the picks and rams other than the floor, certainly was high on the hit parade. In the cramped confines of a fully-loaded BearCat, there’s little room for such items. In addition, having such tools permanently stored on the vehicle would do wonders in ensuring the gear is always where you need it, when you need it. With limited room on the inside, the solution was quite ingenious. At the direction of Sgt. Eric Lane (SWAT Team Leader and the brains behind the modifications), Key Steel welded a series of simple brackets on both rear corners and wheel wells of the BearCat. These brackets allowed two rams (one standard circular ram and one Broco compact ram) to be stored on each wheel well, and a pick (Halligan tool) to be stored on each rear corner of the vehicle. Depending on which side the target location might be, a pick and ram would always be easily accessible to team members from the covered side of the BearCat.
As part of any deployment, most of the containment teams routinely carry bus ladders. Faced with the typical fence or wall surrounding most properties, it’s useful to carry a lightweight ladder capable of providing height as well as a stable shooting platform. In order to save room, these went on the roof. Again, simple was the answer. One steel bracket shaped like a “T” with three vertical prongs was welded to the roof. This allowed all three ladders to be stacked on top of each other between the two lateral prongs, which limited side-to-side movement. The handrail on the rear of the BearCat was utilized, along with the third forward vertical prong, to sandwich the ladders and limit front-to-rear movement. This allowed the ladders to be reasonably secure while driving, yet quickly and easily retrievable by simply lifting them straight up.
Ram And Mount
Due to cost, our BearCat was purchased without a ram or ram mount. Looking at the hefty price Lenco wanted for those items, the team went outside the box again. Custom Metal Concepts out of San Diego produces not only nice gas rams and burn safes (which the team purchased), but also the vehicle mount, boom and shield they needed to give the BearCat breaching capabilities. With 1-stop shopping, CMC mounted a hitch to the front of the BearCat and welded two boom mounts on the roofline, adjacent to the handrail on the passenger side of the vehicle. The boom is secured quite nicely over pin mounts with a locking cotter pin, is out of the way, quick to retrieve when needed and only cost a fraction of what Lenco wanted for a similar product.
While the electronic upgrades were limited in nature, they did make the BearCat a much better vehicle. To begin with, a Garmin GPS was hardwired into the dash. With target locations, routes, as well as local hospitals and trauma centers pre-plugged, it makes “getting there” just a bit easier.
In addition to the GPS on the dash the team’s Eagle X thermal imager was hardwired into a panel affixed to the starboard-side wall behind the passenger seat. In its constantly charged state, it’s always ready to go without the hassle of remembering to charge the batteries. Mounted to the side of the imager is a Prestone inverter with two plugs capable of converting 12V DC to a more useful 110V AC. Just below that charger are two additional cigarette lighter-type chargers for phones or other handheld devices. With the integration of laptops, iPads, downlinks and other electronics into SWAT operations, it’s nice to have a variety of power sources available.
To brighten up the C-3 profile, two Whelen 600 Series LEDs were added to the backside of the BearCat mirrors as well as some blue LEDs just below the rear bumper. The vehicle VHF antenna, which was awkwardly mounted on the roof towards the rear of vehicle, was replaced with a more efficient antenna and moved to the front of the vehicle. While I’m not a techie, the Comm folks who made the move guaranteed not only better reception, but also far less chance of one of the guys getting “RF burns” if the antenna was inadvertently used as a handhold while transmitting.
Tactical medicine and the gear going with it has become a huge part of the Hawthorne SWAT team. They not only have four doctors (one is a reserve officer), but also two paramedic volunteers and four SWAT officers cross-trained as EMTs. While each SWAT officer carries his own first aid gear, the doctors wanted sufficient gear on the BearCat to handle advanced trauma. The back wall of the BearCat proved ideally suited to the purpose. A simple hard plastic sheet was glued to both back walls, adjacent to the doors, and a variety of special order pouches (made by the “Vestman” out of Hawthorne) were then screwed into the plastic. These pouches now contain a variety of medical gear as well as an AED strapped toward the bottom.
With limited lighting inside, two Whelen high-intensity 900 Series, Super LED scene lights were added to the rear interior roof. With each 24 diode LED putting out 6,500 lumens, the combined 13,000 lumens made the rear of the BearCat usable for seeing and treating medical issues of all kinds.
While most SWAT officers maintain firm control over their personal weapons, a need existed for additional secure weapon storage inside the BearCat. The answer was four Blac-Rac weapon mounts with electronic releases. The Blac-Rac system was chosen due to its ability to securely hold a variety of loaded weapons (ARs, shotguns and 40mms), while at the same time protecting the trigger and magazine releases (and in the case of the ARs, the takedown pins). The system is extremely flexible, easy to use and allows weapons to be quickly and easily shifted between mounts.
One mount (for a less-lethal shotgun) was placed on the right front passenger side, another mount (for a 40mm) was placed behind the driver seat and two mounts (for AR platforms) went in the center between the front seats. Reps from Blac-Rac were extremely easy to work with, very accommodating and even went so far as to provide us with a custom mount plate that could be attached to the BearCat, as well as hold the two center Blac-Racs.
The end result of these tweaks was a BearCat well-suited for the needs of the Hawthorne Police Department and its SWAT team. Like everything in police work, there’s always room for a little improvement.
By Lieutenant TI Goetz