| The Daytona Beach News-Journal
The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office is getting a new BearCat.
What’s a BearCat?
It’s a rural, off-road, armored and tactical personnel carrier made by manufacturer Lenco Armored Vehicles that’s expected cost the county approximately $340,000 and will be the fourth armored carrier in the public safety department’s fleet.
The County Council unanimously approved the purchase request from Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s office, but not without the former sheriff and the current sheriff going back and forth on whether the department really needed a fourth armored car.
More: After war of words, Volusia Sheriff Chitwood ‘grateful’ for budget approval
The item was on Tuesday’s council consent agenda – the part of the county business meeting where items typically sail through without much, if any, discussion. But not this time.
Former four-term sheriff and current Councilman Ben Johnson wanted to talk about the funding request.
“The BearCat is a fantastic piece of equipment and every law enforcement agency needs to have one,” said Johnson. “When I was sheriff, I greatly wanted one but we never could afford it. Since that time, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Department has acquired a BearCat.”
But Johnson said the department not only already had purchased a BearCat, but also has two MRAPs – the acronym for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored tactical vehicles that protect military troops from explosives and ambushes.
“They’re not the ideal piece of equipment,” said Johnson, “But they suffice in any kind of emergency. And when you have another one, that’s three armored vehicles for the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office and I have problems seeing the need for a fourth one.”
According to county documents, Chitwood decided to postpone the purchase of 10 new patrol cars in order to afford the second BearCat.
Chitwood said his agency needs it to prepare for a worst-case scenario, should a new administration take over the White House and recall all the military equipment that local policing departments have acquired over the years.
Chitwood criticized Johnson’s choice to pull the item from the consent agenda to discuss it, calling it “personal animus,” and said the BearCat purchase should be made with or without Johnson’s blessing.
More: Volusia sheriff fumes over giving up armored carrier
“Ben, let’s address the elephant in the room,” said Chitwood. “This is pulled for personal animus. I suppose if you were the sheriff, you’d be making the argument that I want to make. But the objective here is we’re going to move forward with it without your vote and I’m going to use your own words to prove that.”
Chitwood pointed to Johnson’s anger back in 2015 over having to relinquish ownership of one of the department’s military vehicles during his own time as sheriff back in 2015, during President Barack Obama’s administration.
The current sheriff said the vehicles are used tactically, for hurricanes, floods and wildfires and if a new administration gets into the White House, the feds could take away the armored military vehicles agencies across the U.S. have – including Volusia County’s – and the county needs to prepare for that kind of outcome.
“On Jan. 20, if a new administration takes Washington D.C. over, from all the conference calls that I’m on, from all of the Zoom panels that I sit on, the new administration is coming after every piece of federal equipment that we have,” said Chitwood. “That is the two MRAPs, and that’s over… 200 rifles that we have out on the street.”
Chitwood said with the “stroke of a pen,” the federal government could confiscate the agencies equipment.
Chairman Ed Kelley said he remembered reading about the Obama administration’s recall of military vehicles and “was livid” at the notion that the federal government could take back the weapons and machinery they had given out to local police agencies.
Should that happen, Chitwood said, “What do we have? We have one BearCat. And in today’s climate, where they’re assassinating deputies, where there are far right and far left militia groups that are armed to the teeth, I think we need to prepare ourselves in case of that.”
In the end, Johnson said he still has a problem with a third of a million dollars for the purchase, but ultimately supported the request.
“Mike, you do make a very compelling argument,” said Johnson. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next administration. … I hope you’re wrong. And I hope we’re all wrong about what could happen.”