Demilitarized police vehicle to hit Windsor streets next month

In recent years, more special police units in both Canada and the U.S. have been clothed in military-like gear and dispatched in heavily armoured, military-style vehicles.

LIght armoured vehicle goes into service in September, C8 rifles already being used

The militarized version of the Cougar, a vehicle donated to Windsor police. The force will demilitarize the vehicle by removing all weaponry. (CBC)

The perceived "militarization" of many North American police forces has made for a lively discussion and calls for changes in U.S. legislation over the past two weeks.

Response to the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by police a little more than two weeks ago in Ferguson, Mo., has sparked the debate.

Armoured Vehicles

A list of some Ontario police departments with former military vehicles.

  • Toronto.
  • London.
  • Peel.
  • Hamilton.
  • Durham
  • Sault Ste. Marie.
  • Ottawa.
  • Windsor.

Police and protesters clashed for more than a week, with police dressed in riot gear and using former military vehicles to keep the crowd in check.

In recent years, more special police units in both Canada and the U.S. have been clothed in military-like gear and dispatched in heavily armoured, military-style vehicles.

Next month, Windsor will become one of the latest Ontario police departments to be equipped with a former military vehicle.

The department has also replaced its shotguns with C8 rifles, cousins of the M-16.

The Cougar, a light armoured vehicle, was donated to Windsor police by the Department of National Defence. It's a vehicle that was used by soldiers in Afghanistan. 

Sgt. Matt D'Asti with Windsor's Police Service told CBC News while the vehicle may look like a military vehicle, it has been "demilitarized," meaning all its weaponry has been removed, making it what police call an armoured rescue vehicle, and nothing more. 

"It's a multi-use vehicle," said D'Asti. "It could be used in the case of a natural disaster or search and rescue operations, but the primary reason why we saw a need for the vehicle was for any type of active shooter or barricaded gunman situation or hostage-taking … any situation where you have a shooter and there's the potential for people to be seriously injured or killed."

It's not something that's meant to be offensive.- Matt D'Asti, Windsor Police

D'Asti said the vehicle would be used in critical incidents faced by officer to make sure the public is safe. 

"It's not something that's meant to be offensive, it's not something that we're patrolling the streets with," he said. 

He said the six-wheeled, 9,071-kg vehicle is worth $300,000 but comes at no additional capital cost to the taxpayer and costs $1,000 to maintain yearly. 

D'Asti said Windsor police started inquiring about the armoured vehicle in 2011 when the Department of National Defence was decommissioning some of its vehicles and donating them to various police agencies. 

He said the vehicle has never been deployed and added the Emergency Services Unit is currently training with it. 

The vehicle is expected to be rolled out in September. 

Some question need of demilitarized vehicles 

Similar vehicles have been deployed by police in Toronto, London, Peel, Hamilton, Durham, Sault Ste. Marie and Ottawa. 

Sault Ste. Marie police’s Ballistic Armoured Tactical Transport vehicle cost $255,000, while the OPP’s armoured rescue vehicles cost over $400,000. Montreal police’s armoured vehicle cost $360,000.

General Dynamic Land Systems of London, Ont, donated a Tactical Rescue Vehicle to Durham Regional Police, and a portion of the cost for the Sault Ste. Marie vehicle was donated by Essar Steel Algoma.

Windsor Police Chief Al Frederick told CBC Windsor that had the department not been given such a vehicle, the Windsor Police Service would not likely have paid for one out of its own budget.

This armoured Terradyne police vehicle replaced Hamilton police's previous armoured vehicle - a refurbished 1969 Brinks truck they’ve been using since 1981. (Facebook)

When Hamilton police introduced its 6,800-kg demilitarized vehicle in May, some people on social media wondered why the vehicle was necessary. 

Some on Facebook wondered if  "the police are going to war" and questioned the need for "a tank."

According to Hamilton police, the armoured rescue unit is used to evacuate injured citizens or police from extreme situations. 

They say it's mean to protects officers from gunfire when they're approaching what they call a "crisis point" during high-risk incidents. 

Officers can also use the vehicle in hard to reach, off-road situations and to pull or push heavy obstacles out of the way. 

The idea of military gifts to local police has received some criticism in the recent months, especially in the U.S.

Congressman Hank Johnson wants to reform a Pentagon program that gives military-grade weapons to local law enforcement departments for free.

"Our main streets should be a place for business, families, and relaxation, not tanks and M16s," said Johnson in reaction to the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. "Militarizing America's main streets won't make us any safer, just more fearful and more reticent."

In Windsor, D'Asti said it's important for people to understand that the Windsor police vehicle has been demilitarized. 

"A lot of people have been saying is there is a lot of militarization of the police, and it's not militarized, this is police equipment," he said. "The equipment that we are issued is police equipment, and the primary function of the equipment is to keep the community safe, that's our hugest mandate, it's our priority. We are guardians of the public and that's what we are employed to do and that's what we will do, we'll keep the community safe."

More new weapons for Windsor police force 

The service has also purchased a new major incident command bus, as well as some new high-powered C8 rifles to its arsenal.

In 2013 the force purchased 15 new C8 rifles to replace the 12-gauge shotguns previously used by officers. 

The rifle is more accurate and fires more bullets with less penetrating power, thus reducing the chance of someone else being hit.

Each C8 rife costs about $2,000, and police said more will be purchased as the funding becomes available. 

The City of Windsor also outfits its bylaw officers in bullet-proof vests.


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