Look out violent criminals! The next time you see SWAT, you might see the Bearcat stopping in on you

Tom Kennedy, Editor
SWAT supplies this photo of its new vehicle, a gift from the 100 Club of Greater Houston, already seeing daily action. Photo by Officer Marcos Betancourt

Wrongdoers and n’er-do-wells beware, especially if you threaten violence against Houston police officers.

SWAT has a new vehicle, which – to use a football analogy – can be “agile, mobile and hostile.”

It’s known as “the Bearcat.” As SWAT Commander Larry Baimbridge described it, “We needed something a little more nimble than the Bear.” SWAT got its wish.

The Bearcat is the third SWAT vehicle presented to HPD since 1992 by the 100 Club of Greater Houston. The 100 Club has the sturdiest reputation ever for helping law enforcement officers and first responders by supplying financial aid to the surviving families inline-of-duty death cases and first responders in serious need.

Over the decades the Club has furnished HPD officers with ever-lasting support, always following its pledge to celebrate heroes, support dependents, provide equipment and fund scholarships on an unconditional basis.

The first 100 Club offering was the Rhino in 1992, described by Baimbridge as “an odd-looking armored vehicle with a big hydraulic arm that we used as a battering ram to knock down doors. It took bullets that didn’t phase it.”

After decades of steady use, HPD officially gave the Rhino to the League City Police Department along with the blessings of the 100 Club.

“We’re happy to report that the Rhino remains an effective police vehicle,” the commander said. “League City PD didn’t have a SWAT vehicle and this one will be put to good use.”

He said, “We went to the 100 Club and said we needed a new vehicle. “The League City Police Department spent money to upgrade our 27-year-old Rhino, which was still running and protecting officers. Now we can say that two agencies have benefitted from the 100 Club’s donation.”

Then we must tell the story of the second vehicle donated to HPD. Costing a comfortable six-digit figure in 2010, the Bear became an official HPD SWAT vehicle in 2010 – again thanks to the 100 Club.

It was constructed on a commercial truck chassis highly similar to one used to pull an 18-wheeler.

“It’s strong but hard to get around on city streets,” Baimbridge explained. “It has great protection for those inside. We use it all the time. We used it after Harvey for high-water rescues. It’s very versatile in handling special threats, barricaded suspects, hostage situations and serving warrants. We used it in the Astros (World Series) parade to keep an eye on everybody.”

And now, the third vehicle story.

The 100 Club loves police wish lists. Baimbridge said at the top of the HPD list was a more maneuverable armored vehicle. Never to be intimidated by any obstacle, the Club anted up $310,000 for the Bearcat, manufactured by Lenco Industries of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, also the maker of the Bear.

The Bearcat was ready for pick-up in mid-April. Baimbridge led the charge to Albany, New York, to perform the task. He, Sgt. Tommy Calabro and Officer Troy Dupuy took turns driving the new prize to Houston, which required two and a half days even while “cruising at 75 miles an hour,” the commander said with a satisfied smile.

The “more nimble vehicle” arrived at its new home April 24 and “the next day we had a call-out to serve a warrant. We utilize it any time we think it may be useful.

“It’s one of the nicest armored vehicles certainly that we’ve ever had.”

To no one’s surprise, the Bearcat got lots of attention on the road to the Bayou City, turning the eyes of many passersby. “They knew it was a SWAT vehicle even though there was nothing (such as a logo) on it that was SWAT. It had 100 Club markings on it. We had to put the HPD SWAT logo on later.

“Since they were the ones that purchased it, they sent their logos up to Lenco and they applied them before we arrived. There’s also a plaque inside that says the Bearcat was donated by the 100 Club of Greater Houston.

“We can’t thank the 100 Club enough. The Club has highly honorable members with highly honorable goals. We will be honored every time we use the vehicle they gave us at SWAT.