It looks formidable: The Burlington Police Department has a new emergency response vehicle to ferry specialized gear to scenes of crises. The $157,000 truck is a Ford F-550, girded with aluminum. It has lights to illuminate a scene, and it's emblazoned with department logos.
But it's meant to help officers minimize violent interactions with those they arrest, Police Chief Brandon del Pozo emphasized. The truck is not armored. "It's a repository for all our nonlethal weapons," he said. He compared it to "a toolbox."
The truck will carry a winch on its front bumper and "every kind of power tool," according to del Pozo.
It'll also have tools that only a cop would use, such as Y-bars that allow officers to pin a violent suspect against a wall from afar. It'll also be tricked out with water cannons, reconnaissance robots, ropes, restraints, armor, helmets, cameras and "throw phones," which cops can give during standoffs to suspects with whom they hope to negotiate.
None of the gadgets are new for the department, but having them handy on one vehicle is. "Now we have everything we can think of, within reason, to isolate and contain volatile situations, and a way to get it all to one place quickly," del Pozo said.
The truck will respond to a variety of calls: school shooting threats, mental health crises, execution of search warrants, said Deputy Chief Shawn Burke.
"It's for folks in crisis," Burke said.
The truck was in a garage at the Department of Public Works Wednesday. Following a staff training, it will hit the streets in late April, said del Pozo. Cops will need to be certified to drive the larger vehicle, he added.
The emergency response vehicle
The truck will be publicly unveiled at the May 16 community police barbecue, he added.
Del Pozo said he decided to purchase the vehicle after the death of Ralph "Phil" Grenon in May 2016. Police were called to Grenon's College Street apartment after Grenon, 76, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, yelled at and threatened neighbors. After a lengthy standoff, officers entered his apartment. When Grenon approached with knives, an officer fatally shot him.
Del Pozo said officers scrambled to get the necessary equipment to contain and communicate with Grenon. At one point, they decided to drill a hole in his wall to try to check on him with a camera. The chief was forced to fetch a power drill from his own basement, he said.
"We did everything we could do at the time, but we're now trained and equipped to do more," del Pozo wrote in a message to Seven Days.
Last May, the Burlington City Council unanimously approved buying the truck with the police department's asset forfeiture fund, obtained from drug investigations.
The board of finance also approved the expenditure unanimously, after del Pozo assured Councilor Sharon Bushor (I-Ward 1) that the vehicle is for "less-than-lethal responses" and would not be used by SWAT or tactical teams, according to meeting minutes.