The armored “Bear” that delivers tactical police teams weighs 65,000 pounds and rides on a big diesel’s chassis.
The Kansas City officers who disembark wear 50-pound vests and Kevlar helmets carrying heavily barreled array of lethal and non-lethal weapons.
As of Thursday, Kansas City’s SWAT teams had been called out 35 times already in 2018, police said — which they said is higher than usual.
The SWAT teams are intimidating, but Kansas City police spokesman Sgt. Jacob Becchina said their goal is steadfast:
“We will make every effort possible,” he said, “to safely bring each situation to a peaceful end.”
Becchina and Kansas City tactical officers displayed the tools and talked tactics Thursday to help people better understand the work of the tactical teams.
Kansas City’s policies call them Operations 100s. In most of the cases, the armed standoffs this year have ended without violence — such as the siege around a house Sunday morning where three men who had fired as many as 100 rounds outside the home each surrendered.
But other times, officers have opened fire, as when Kansas City police fatally shot a woman in the Northland who had a sword after she ran out of the garage where she had holed up.
Other area departments have seen standoffs end in death, including Grandview police firing on a man with a sword in his driveway earlier this summer, and Olathe ending a standoff by going into a house last summer and killing a woman who had a gun.
Two bullet holes in the Bear vehicle’s heavy armor remind of the risks the officers take.
Those bullets were fired from an AR-15 assault rifle during an operation on 35th Street in 2016, Becchina said.
The tactical teams respond to situations with far more resources than they will end up needing because they have to be ready for unknown threats. Different officers bring different specialties.
“Every situation is different,” Becchina said. And police don’t know until the situation unfolds what they need. “We use everything at our disposal.”
They bring non-lethal weapons, like Tasers and shotguns that fire bean bags and plastic bullets.
And if there is no imminent threat, no active shooter, they can wait and let negotiations and time play out — “as long as it takes,” Becchina said.
But if lives are suddenly in danger, the teams may fire lethal bullets, he said. At that point, officers believe they have to stop the threat as quickly as possible.
There is no option with lethal bullets but to aim at the center of the body, he said. Shooting at arms or legs is unreliable — and can still be fatal — and also adds the risk of stray bullets.
“These are tense, high-risk situations,” he said.