BY MARY BAHR
The Bearcat, one of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office’s armored vehicles, is an impressive piece of hardware. Sergeant Terry Crews, SWAT team commander for Alachua County, explained Bearcat armor will stop rounds from an assault rifle that would penetrate all the way through a regular vehicle 90 percent of the time. The Bearcat is also equipped with night vision capabilities, a ram for breaking down doors, and room for about a dozen members of the County SWAT team who use this vehicle regularly.
The Bearcat and its new tracked armored companion, the Rook, reside in Alachua County but are on call to assist in a 13-county threat response region from Marion Country to the south to Duval County to the north. The response regions were set up by Homeland Security after 9/11, and with them came federal grants for armored vehicles like the Bearcat, which cost $254,332.
The Rook is a more recent purchase, using $150,000 in drug confiscation funds. Sheriff Sadie Darnell recently authorized use of the funds after a trial period in which the Rook, built by Ring Power (part of Caterpillar Corporation) was used in a raid in a neighboring county. The Rook is a tracked vehicle with hydraulic attachments that can be used to remove vehicles from a scene to prevent suspects from fleeing. It also has a bulletproof shield for approaching a siege scene safely and has the capability to literally remove the walls of a frame house where a suspect has barricaded him- or herself.
This last tactic was employed recently and led to the purchase of the vehicle. The suspect in that case committed suicide during the siege after being barricaded in his bathroom with weapons.