Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

December 28, 2012

New crime-fighting tool big boon to officer, public safety

By Bob Belcher
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — This isn’t your father’s armored car.

What it is, is a big addition to the crime-fighting arsenal in Navarro County, and a benefit to all.

Thank a drug dealer for that.

The Navarro County Sheriff’s Department took delivery on a new armored S.W.A.T. vehicle this week, replacing an old, donated money truck that lacked the safety needed to properly protect officers.

The truck was purchased through the Sheriff’s Asset Seizure Fund — money taken mostly from drug dealers. Not a single penny of public funds went to the purchase of the vehicle.

And outgoing Sheriff Les Cotten, and Sheriff-Elect Elmer Tanner agree — it’s all about safety, for officers and the public.

“The old vehicle is about 10 years old,” Cotten said (it was used at the time they received it.) “With the way that criminals are doing now, it is a death trap.”

Cotten said the new vehicle obtained with the drug money is designed to help protect officers and the public.

“You have to think about your officers ... you don’t want to put them in any more harm than necessary,” he said.

Purchase of the vehicle — completely refurbished with a new engine, protective armor and bullet-proof glass — would not have been possible out of the department’s regular budget.

“We had the money (in the seizure fund), and we decided that would be the best way to keep officers safe,” Cotten said.

“We see that as a piece of life-saving equipment,” said Sheriff-Elect Tanner, who’ll take office at midnight Monday. “We are taking a pro-active approach in law enforcement. We understood the ballistic limitations of the (old) vehicle, we understand the recent developments of what’s happening across the country with violence and the shootings that are taking place everywhere, and we felt like we could better utilize the money that was in the drug seizure fund to purchase a support vehicle that had the most ballistic protection that we could acquire at this time to support our law enforcement efforts in Navarro County, and to support the citizens that we serve.”

Tanner said the cost of an equivalent vehicle purchased brand new would be about $250,000. By obtaining the chassis and having it re-built with the new engine and full protective gear and radio communications, the department paid about one-half of what it would cost brand new.

Continued use of the old vehicle, given what they knew about its capability to withstand weapon fire, would place officers and the public in danger, Tanner added.

“We knew that,” Tanner said. “It was better than not having ballistic protection at all, but it wasn’t as good protection as we could have.”

Tanner said the department is fortunate to have the ability to use the fund to purchase equipment such as the new armored vehicle.

“One drug dealer paid for this,” he said.

Cotten likened the use of the protective vehicle to the use of a bullet-proof vest.

“If you don’t give them bullet-proof vests, you know what kind of danger they’re going to be in,” Cotten said. “If you give them a bullet-proof vest, and the possibility that they do get shot, it will save their lives.

“And that’s what I’ve got to think about.”

Currently, the Navarro County Sheriff’s Department is the only local law enforcement agency that operates a “S.W.A.T.” team, Cotten said.

“Now with the vehicle we’ve got, we’ll help keep them safe,” Cotten said, as they respond to not only local operations, but when called to assist other agencies.

Those requests for assistance “will probably increase in demand,” Cotten added.

“And we will make it available,” Tanner pledged.

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Bob Belcher may be reached by email at bbelcher@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com