Greensburg’s police department is adding some heavy-duty wheels to its fleet that will beef up the mobile assets of the Westmoreland County SWAT Team.
The department is poised to receive a BearCat G1 armored police vehicle it won through a national sweepstakes giveaway offer from manufacturer Lenco Industries of Pittsfield, Mass. It’s among the first generation in a line of such tactical response vehicles.
“It’s going to be a great addition for our department,” said Greensburg police Chief Charles Irvin. “It’s an expensive piece of equipment that we normally wouldn’t have access to.”
The vehicle is valued at about $129,000, according to rules of the yearlong online sweepstakes, which began in October 2022.
The BearCat will be housed by the Greensburg force and owned by the city but will be available for joint responses with other law enforcement agencies that are part of the Westmoreland County SWAT team.
“They’re in need of this type of vehicle,” Irvin said.
Greensburg last year signed on with the multimunicipal SWAT team and counts four of its officers among the team’s 30 members.
The team was formed in 2016 as a joint effort by New Kensington, Lower Burrell and Upper Burrell. Other communities that since have joined include Allegheny Township, Vandergrift, Washington Township, Murrysville and North Huntingdon.
The BearCat will be an improvement over one of the team’s two existing response units, a converted former Brinks vehicle originally intended for securely transporting money, according to Westmoreland SWAT commander Zach Beam.
Unlike the Brinks unit, the BearCat is specifically designed for SWAT operations, said Beam, who also is a detective sergeant on the Lower Burrell police force.
“It’s used to protect officers going in and out of high-risk situations and to potentially rescue innocent residents,” Beam said, noting it should be able to hold 10 people. “It’s built how you would need it for high-risk ballistic coverage and for moving people in and out of the vehicle.”
A similar vehicle was used Aug. 23 in Pittsburgh’s Garfield neighborhood when William Hardison Jr., 63, died after engaging in a six-hour standoff and an exchange of gunfire with police, Beam said. That incident began when sheriff’s deputies attempted to evict Hardison.
Beam said the Westmoreland SWAT team has responded to about 50 incidents since 2018 and often deploys officers in an armored vehicle when serving warrants in high-risk cases. The team was deployed Aug. 25, during a search for vehicular homicide suspect Matthew David Carlson, 35, of Kiski Township, who was found hiding in the basement of a Vandergrift winery.
The team also has an MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected) armored vehicle it obtained at no cost when it was no longer wanted for military service.
“We got one in really good condition, for free,” Beam said.
The MRAP is based at the north end of the territories the Westmoreland SWAT team covers, while the new Greensburg vehicle will be in place farther south.
“When everything is spread out, you can have faster response times,” Beam said. “Any other SWAT team can request us, not only for the nine jurisdictions we cover, but also in other counties.”
The BearCat won by Greensburg is a used vehicle that has been refurbished, according to Irvin. He said Lenco decided to give it away through the sweepstakes after it was traded in by state police in Virginia and again by another agency, when each upgraded to newer models.
“Approximately 600 eligible departments entered the sweepstakes, and we were the winner,” Irvin said.
Greensburg police were informed of the win Oct. 4, and council voted last week to accept the vehicle.
“We’re going to be making arrangements to have our officers trained on the vehicle and have it transported back here,” Irvin said. “It should be within the next 90 days.”
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