Homeland Security grant to buy armored vehicle

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Criminals will see an intimidating new presence on the street when the Galax Police Department gets an armored vehicle, as part of a statewide package of $4.9 million in Homeland Security funds.

Carroll and Grayson sheriffs' departments will each be able to scan for suspect vehicles with new license plate recognition cameras paid for out of the same grants.

Gov. Bob McDonnell last week announced the awarding of the State Homeland Security Program grants to police and sheriffs’ departments all across Virginia. The money will be used to acquire equipment crucial to fighting crime and deterring terrorist acts.

Galax Police Chief Rick Clark said this is not a grant that his department applied for. It was a decision made by the Law Enforcement Command Advisory Group and Department of Criminal Justice Services.

The vehicle will be chemical-, radiological- and bullet-resistant and “could be used to extract someone from a high-risk situation,” said Clark.

Clark said the armored vehicles will be used regionally to help localities. The police department has partnered with some other law enforcement agencies — including Bristol, Danville, Charlottesville, Danville, Roanoke City and Arlington.

Each vehicle in these localities will contain different capabilities to complement each other. For example, he said, the armored car housed in Galax may contain thermal imaging, and the one in Bristol would contain a different feature.

The vehicle housed in Galax would also be used to assist law enforcement in nearby localities, such as Bristol, Montgomery County or Pulaski County.

“We are working on procurement issues and how the vehicles will be retrofitted," said Clark. “This particular vehicle will be one of three in this region — Galax, Bristol, Virginia State Police.”

The grant includes the price of the base vehicle and associated equipment, such as radios.

The police department is “negotiating a memorandum of understanding with agencies in the New River Valley to share resources and provide specially trained personnel in major events or crimes,” said Clark. “This vehicle is certainly a piece of specialized equipment.”

Clark said he expects the vehicle to be in place no earlier than next fall. The average cost of these types of vehicles, excluding equipment, is $200,000, said Clark.

License Plate Recognition

Grayson Sheriff Richard Vaughan said his department will receive $17,000 to purchase and install a license plate recognition camera.

Vaughan said the camera — along with a computer system — will be installed into one of his department's patrol cars.

The camera will allow the deputy to read up to 10,000 license plates in an eight-hour shift and makes a log of each plate it scans.

"So while we're patrolling, we can hit the hotels, convenience stores and it will run and log each of those tags," he said. "If one happens to be stolen or if the person in connection with the vehicle is wanted, it will come up on the computer screen, flash red and an alarm will sound."

Vaughan added that the camera would be a "great crime fighting tool" and that he looked forward to putting it to work within Grayson County.

Another use for the camera will be to log cars parked on various roads throughout the county.

Vaughan said if a break-in or other crime happened in an area the deputy had recently been in, they could look at the log and see what other vehicles and/or who may have been in that area just before.

"It's really going to be helpful," Vaughan said.

Carroll County Sheriff's Office will get a $17,000 grant to buy a license plate reader, just like Grayson County.

This is an idea that's been handed down from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Sheriff Warren Manning said.

The advantage is that a deputy won't have to read off the license plate to a dispatcher to run the information.

"You still have to do police work after," Manning said. "It's just another tool.

"In our own jurisdiction, it should help us too in our everyday police work."

Protecting Citizens

“The foremost obligation of government is public safety,” Gov. McDonnell said. “It is critical that all localities have the tools they need to protect citizens from threats to their communities.

“These funds represent the latest in a multi-phase plan to fill gaps in regional response and deterrence resources among local law enforcement agencies.”

The State Homeland Security Program provides funds to help build capabilities at the state and local levels through planning, training, exercise activities and purchase of needed equipment. Equipment scheduled for purchase with these grants includes incident response vehicles, personal protective equipment, automatic license plate readers and bomb squad gear.

Potential recipients and equipment needs were identified through an analysis conducted annually by local law enforcement leaders, the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association and the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.

Based on the needs analysis, project proposals were developed and submitted through the Governor’s Office to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for review and approval. Once approved, the grants were issued by the Department of Criminal Justice Services, the administrative agency in Virginia for law enforcement grants.