Board approves armored vehicle: $250,000 purchase to replace 1983 vehicle
An equipment purchase by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office caused quite a bit of controversy at a Douglas County Board budget meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Sheriff Troy Wolbersen, in one of his budget requests, asked to purchase a new armored vehicle — with a price tag of approximately $275,000.
The request was approved in a 3-2 vote, with commissioners Jerry Rapp and Jim Stratton voted against it.
Rapp, who said he's received a lot of pushback for how much money the county spends, made a motion to table the discussion.
"The taxpayers think we have spent a lot of money," said Rapp. "I have a hard time spending money on something like this. It's just a bad time."
His motion was defeated, with commissioners Keith Englund, Owen Miller and Charlie Meyer voting against it.
"If one or two lives are saved, it's worth it." Englund said.
Wolbersen spent a lot of time pleading his case for the new armored vehicle. The sheriff's office does own an armored vehicle, one that is 35 years old. The 1983 model was purchased close to 15 years ago from military surplus.
Because of its age and condition, Wolbersen told the commissioners the government doesn't want it back and other agencies have no interest in it either. He explained that certain military items can't be sold and that the vehicle is one of those items.
"I wouldn't want it to go to the public. It's more a museum relic," said Wolbersen. "That's probably where it's heading."
The sheriff compared an armored vehicle to a fire truck. He said it's a safety mechanism or piece of rescue equipment that only gets used when it is needed, unlike a squad car that is used daily.
"Its purpose is to save lives. Its purpose is to make it safer for officers and deputies to enter a hot zone. Will it get used every day? No. Will it get used regularly? Yes. Unfortunately, our world isn't becoming more safe," Wolbersen said.
"For me, this is an easy decision. It's a valuable piece of equipment. This one is extremely important to me. It's their lives. It's my deputies and officers and the community."
He told the commissioners he doesn't come to them asking for luxury items; he asks them for things his department needs. In today's modern world, he said, technology and up-to-date equipment are key.
Char Rosenow, the county's auditor/treasurer, said the $275,000 was added to the sheriff's 2019 budget, but that if approved, the purchase could be made in 2018 if the sheriff's 2018 budget would allow it. She said the 2019 budget would then be reduced if the vehicle was purchased with 2018 funds.
At this point, she said Wolbersen is 4 percent under his 2018 budget. His approved budget for 2018 was $8.1 million, which includes the operation of the jail and dispatch.
In response to questions from the Echo Press the next day, Wolbersen said that the new armored vehicle would be a basic model that would then be customized for his agency. The company doesn't manufacture the vehicle until an agency orders it, he said, adding that it is designed for civilian law enforcement use.
The 1983 armored vehicle seats six comfortably with two in the front and four in the back. The newer model seats 12 with two in the front and 10 in the back.
One of the biggest differences with a newer vehicle, according to Wolbersen, is the technology. On the model the sheriff's office is looking at, mounted cameras can be monitored from the inside of the vehicle.
He said it enables the SWAT team to safely search a large area from inside the armored vehicle before deputies or officers are put on the ground. In addition, he said, an intercom system inside the vehicle allows law enforcement officers to communicate with people outside the vehicle.
"In a tense situation, we can pull up close without putting people at risk," the sheriff said. "We try to avoid violence. We want zero casualties and we try to prevent injuries for all involved, both sides."
After his request was approved, Wolbersen told the commissioners he appreciated their approval of his request.
"I do this for a living and I know how important this piece of equipment is," he said. "It saves lives."