Wood Sheriff’s Department buys S.W.A.T. vehicle

PARKERSBURG – One of the first 10 armored S.W.A.T. vehicles ever made is now in Wood County.

Chief Deputy Shawn Graham and Capt. Rick Woodyard with the Wood County Sheriff’s Department got the used armored vehicle in Pittsfield, Mass., on Wednesday, driving it to Parkersburg.

“We were driving through New York City at rush hour on 9/11,” Graham said of the military-style 2002 Lenco BearCat. “There have been 1,100 manufactured since operations in 2002 and this is one of the first 10 ever made.”

Graham said the $126,000 vehicle was paid for by federal grants after Tom Smith, sheriff’s office administrator, brought the idea to him. The vehicle, which has 50,000 miles on it, can be used for S.W.A.T. team operations, drug raids and hostage situations.

“I’ve been in law enforcement 40 years and we owe it to people that will put their life on the line,” said Sheriff Ken Merritt. “This is just awesome to me to have seen back then and where we have come to now.”

Graham said the vehicle is completely armored from top to bottom. He said the outside shell of the vehicle, including windows, can withstand up to 50-caliber rounds of ammunition.

“We believe it can hold a 10-man S.W.A.T. team,” Graham said. “It is a substantial upgrade for these types of situations.”

While touring the manufacturing facility where the vehicles are made, Graham and Woodyard saw first-hand the effectiveness of the armored car. He said after being shot at around 18 times in Virginia – including through the front window – the officers in the car walked away from the potentially life-threatening situation without a scrape.

Merritt said all officers may not have experienced something as traumatic as witnessing a fellow officer killed in the line of duty, but all are intensely aware of how situations can immediately turn dangerous.

“People might think ‘they’re awful joyful about doing this,’ but we take it real serious,” Merritt said.

Dangerous situations are all too real, Graham said.

Graham said after deadly situations in Ritchie and Nicholas counties, Wood County deputies were called for help and arrived within 30 minutes of receiving word other officers may be in trouble.

“In Nicholas County, within 30 minutes we had a dozen cruisers in the county,” Merritt said.

Merritt was the sheriff at the time during his previous term.

“We don’t care about state or county lines,” Graham said. “We will be available to take this to Washington, Jackson and Kanawha counties, among others.”

The vehicles are used in Canada, Australia and Jamaica, along with Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Texas, California, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, Nevada and Tennessee in the United States.