The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff showed off a few new pieces of equipment Friday that were acquired to help deputies better track down suspects, find missing children and handle volatile public safety events.
The department bought its first helicopter — a refurbished military bird — and two brand-new vehicles for a total of $863,754, a savings of millions when considering the machinery would retail for some $4.7 million, said organization spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks.
“It helps us better serve the community,” Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said before about a hundred people, mostly local law enforcement agents, who were gathered in a state-owned hangar next to the sheriff’s headquarters in Scotlandville.
The helicopter, a 1970 Bell OH-58 A-Model, was acquired through a federal surplus initiative known as the “1033 program” that allows local law enforcement agencies to obtain used military equipment. Though the program grants the gear free of charge, the sheriff’s office had to pay $10,000 to acquire the chopper through the Louisiana Federal Property Assistance Agency, Hicks said. About $460,000 was spent on repainting it, updating its technology and bringing it up to federal aviation standards. A new helicopter with the same features would cost an estimated $3.7 million, Hicks said.
The two other vehicles include an armored car — called a Lenco BearCat — and a custom-designed 2016 Peterbilt mobile command trailer that includes a private conference room, a fully-equipped office, a basic kitchen, a bathroom and an external television screen to quickly convey information, such as a map, to deputies at a scene. The command unit also has various wireless connection features like internet and satellite service.
The armored car, the second one owned by the department, can be used in SWAT operations and to transport victims from dangerous settings, Gautreaux said. Cpl. Cline Breland, of the sheriff’s office, showed a pointed rod included as part of the vehicle that allows deputies to pierce the door of a building and spray tear gas inside to coax out a suspect who refuses to exit, such as in a hostage situation. The vehicle also includes run-flat tires, a thermal imaging camera and a military-style roof hatch.
“We’re not there to be a military organization although it looks and appears that way sometimes. We’re there to be prepared,” said State Police Col. Mike Edmonson. Gautreaux thanked Edmonson at the event, saying to him “we wouldn’t be here without you” in acquiring the equipment.
Edmonson allowed storage of the helicopter at the hangar, owned by the state and supervised by the State Police, as well as shared use of state-funded mechanics and fuel.
The BearCat cost $299,915, Hicks said. The mobile command post cost $757,373, but about 88 percent of the fee was paid by the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation, a private Baton Rouge-based philanthropic organization.
The sheriff’s office expenditures came out of the department’s general fund, Hicks said.
The Baton Rouge Police Department owns one helicopter, although it’s smaller than the one unveiled by the sheriff, said agency representative Lt. Jonny Dunnam. The State Police owns seven helicopters based in different cities across the state, said Maj. Doug Cain, a spokesman for that organization.
“The public just wants to know we’re coming. And it’s sad that we’re in a day and time when we’ve gotta have these assets. When you look at them, they can be alarming sometimes,” Edmonson told the crowd. “But I can tell you that person that needs them, they’re a breath of fresh air.”
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