Why Does a Small Town Have an Armored Vehicle? The Police Chief Explains

Earlier today I posted a message from a reader who had passed through the small town of Galax, Virginia and seen this armored vehicle, with a label on the front saying Galax Police.

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The Galax police chief has written just now to correct my reader's (natural) assumption that the city had purchased the "Bearcat" vehicle for its own fleet. Here is the chief's letter, in full. I thank him for the clarification.

Mr. Fallows,
I read your article that referenced the Galax Lenco Bearcat on the internet. I am Chief of the Galax Police Department and wanted to correct one item. The pride of the Galax Police is not the Lenco Bearcat rather it is the young men and women who serve the City of Galax on a daily basis. The vehicle was not purchased by the City of Galax it is housed here as part of a regional partnership. The vehicle is a multi-faceted incident response vehicle that is designed for operation in high risk situations including hazardous material spills, explosions and other disasters.
It is not an equipment item that I would have asked the city to consider buying. We did however agree to house the vehicle and deploy it anywhere in this part of Virginia. We have in fact deployed it in high risk situations including one situation this year when two law enforcement officers lost their life when attacked by a sniper.  In all honesty it is not an equipment item that any agency in this part of Virginia could afford to buy on their own.
I take offense at the characterization of storm trooper. The vehicle was in fact on display along with police vehicles and fire apparatus at a public safety display during the National Night out Against Crime which was celebrated nationwide. The writer neglected to mention that and I would have hoped that he would have mentioned the attitude and demeanor of the officers that they came into contact with while in Galax.
I  realize that the proliferation of cameras in our society has changed the way we view the world sometimes good and sometimes bad. However this situation was a generalization based on an assumption not on the reality of why the vehicle is in the City of Galax.
Rick Clark, Chief
Galax Police Department
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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