NEWARK -- For years, police Chief James Leal has been looking into buying an armored truck for his department but could not find the right price or circumstances.
That, finally, has changed and, in the wake of the mass shooting at Oakland's Oikos University in April and the gunfire that killed 12 people Friday in Aurora, Co., Leal is anxious to finalize the deal.
The City Council is scheduled to vote Thursday whether to pay a total of $161,000 to lease a used bulletproof vehicle for the next seven years.
The recently refurbished Lenco BearCat, which resembles an armored Brinks truck, would be used only for special circumstances, such as armed barricaded suspects, terrorist attacks and shootings at schools and other public places, police said.
Newark, a small city of just under 43,000 people, has had its share of police standoffs with suspects in recent years, but has never been hit with a terrorist attack or mass shooting. Still, Leal said the Aurora tragedy is a "prime example" of why police agencies need the truck.
"Nowadays, you don't where or how it's going to happen," Leal said.
The armored vehicle, with less than 25,000 miles on the odometer, is equipped to carry up to 10 officers. It also would provide a shielded area where shooting victims could receive emergency care.
In Berkeley and Albany earlier this month, police backed off plans to acquire a similar truck, after critics argued that such a vehicle
Newark officials said those concerns are unfounded because the four-wheel, dual-axle truck will not be armed with weaponry.
"It's a protective vehicle, not an assault vehicle or a tank," Leal said. "It's not used for riots; it's designed to stop bullets, make rescues and protect citizens and areas from bullet fire."
Lenco, a Massachussets-based company, is renovating trucks that were used in overseas military operations and selling them to police agencies. A new version would cost about $340,000, a cost-prohibitive price, Leal said. City officials say they will get the same service with a used vehicle for less than half the price. The city would pay an average of $23,000 per year for seven years, with an option to buy the vehicle for $1 when the agreement expires, City Manager John Becker said. About $119,000 -- or 75 percent of the tab — would be paid from the police budget, while the general fund would pay the remaining $42,000 at a rate of $6,000 each year over the life of the contract.
Neighboring police agencies, including Fremont, Union City, Hayward and Oakland, have similar vehicles, and Newark has borrowed those trucks in recent SWAT team operations. But Leal said Newark needs its own to avoid waiting for up 90 minutes for the truck to arrive from another city.
"You don't want to be forced to sit and wait for resources to arrive to stop violence from happening," Leal said. "How long do you wait when people have been shot and are dying?"
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.