The manufacturer calls it a "BearCat," which stand for "Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck."
But St. Petersburg Police officers call theirs an "officer rescue vehicle" out of respect for two comrades slain in the line of duty January 24, 2011. That was the day Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz was shot and killed by a fugitive hiding in an attic.
The same assailant shot and killed Sgt. Tom Baitinger during an attempt to rescue Yaslowitz.
With the armed suspect still in the attic, other officers initially found cover behind a dump truck.
"An officer was thinking on his feet and went and commandeered a dump truck from this construction crew," Officer David Gerardo recalled Tuesday. "That was the only protection we had from gunfire in front of that house that morning."
Gerardo, a member of the SWAT team, said he was summoned from his home and arrived on scene before the first armored vehicles arrived from other law enforcement agencies.
Every officer in the agency will learn the basics of the new vehicle so that "...any line patrol officer can get this vehicle and get out to the scene in a matter of minutes" Gerardo explained.
The vehicle cost about $250,000 and does not feature a lot of electronics. It does have 1.5 inch thick armor plating, bullet-resistant glass, rectangular gun ports and a rescue hatch on the roof.
During a short drive, Officer Jason Deary explained "In the event we need to have people from an office building or a school or other situations...come onto our roof and enter through a safe point they can do it through that rescue hatch."
Deary said the truck weighs 19,500 pounds yet "...is very nimble for its size and weight."
He compared it to driving a Ford F250 pickup truck. It is also about that size.
"The size gives us the ability to get where we need to get when we need to get there without worrying about knocking power lines over or being able to fit in alleys and such," Deary said.
It can also easily seat 14 SWAT team members in full gear and the engine can idle for long periods of time without overheating.
But the biggest attribute is time.
"Having a vehicle like this of our own here in the city gives us the ability in a bad situation -- whether it's an officer-involved shooting or an incident with a citizen who's been injured or is pinned down by gunfire -- it gives us the ability to get the vehicle there to use it as a life-saving tool in a matter of minutes, as opposed to having to call a neighboring agency and it being maybe an hour or upwards of that before we can get a vehicle like that on scene," Gerardo said.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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