Student Life Editor
It could be a treasured toy– equipped with eight tons of black armor, tires capable of gripping all types of terrain and bulletproof glass. It could be a childhood dream of the G.I. Joe tank come to life.
Fast-forward to the year 2012. The year New Hampshire brought this G.I. Joe plastic tank to life to potentially prowl the streets of Keene, a population of 23,000 and a Keene State College population of 5,738 students.
After the Keene City Council accepted a grant of $285,933 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in December, the council proposed purchasing a BearCat, an armored vehicle manufactured by Lenco Industries Inc. On Mar. 1, the council will decide whether or not to accept this grant.
While it may look like a tank and sound like a tank, for Jim Massery, Lenco’s government sales manager, the proposed vehicle is a S.W.A.T. truck. “Calling a BearCat a tank is like calling an apple an orange. It’s very ignorant,” Massery said.
Massery is one of the 85 people employed by Lenco Industries, a privately-owned, family business. In 1981, Leonard and Rosemary Light founded Lenco Industries in Pittsfield, MA.
Pittsfield, which has the reputation of being one of the most secure places to live according to Farmers Insurance, is part of Berkshire County, one of the national centers of the armored business.
Lenco was originally built to manufacture armored trucks and cars, according to The Berkshire Eagle. “We used to build cash and transit trucks, bank trucks,” Massery said.
However, when Leonard and Rosemary’s son and current President of Lenco Industries, Len Light, bought out his parents’ company in 1992, he had an idea that would revolutionize the idea of armored vehicles.
“We had an idea in 1999 to build armored S.W.A.T. trucks for the police. Why? Because they didn’t have any, it didn’t exist,” Massery said, “We invented the concept of a purpose built armored S.W.A.T. truck; no one had built one before.”
However, Lenco is not the only business, whose area of expertise focuses on building armored protection in Pittsfield. Pittsfield is also home to Berkshire Armored Car Services and Armored Solutions, which is owned by Len Light’s brother, Christopher Light. Armored Solutions manufactures armored vehicles and bullet resistant products like bulletproof vests.
According to The Berkshire Eagle, General Electric and Sheffield Plastics are also part of the armor industry, manufacturing the plastic resins that are used in bulletproof vests.
Since 1981, Lenco has manufactured approximately 5,000 vehicles in over 40 countries across the world, according to swattrucks.com. Clients including the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, NYPD, LAPD and now possibly the KPD, are all clients who have made the decision to purchase this tactical armored security vehicle.
“Places like the Department of Energy that were using humvees and the Air Force that were using humvees are replacing them with BearCats. Why? Because BearCats are less expensive to operate, and they save the government millions of dollars because our parts are less expensive,” Massery said.
BearCats are less expensive to operate because the government does not own Lenco’s designs. “When the government owns your design, you have a limited number of people you can sell to,” Massery said.
This puts no limitation on who Lenco can and cannot sell their products to. As a result, the parts in Lenco’s products become less of a rarity, meaning the parts cost less to fix, Massery said.
According to Massery, there are two types of products the government purchases. “There’s an organization in Michigan called TACOM, tank and army command, and when TACOM is involved they generally design the armored vehicle and then they own the design. For example, the AM General humvee, TACOM owns that design. The Bradley Fighting Vehicle, TACOM owns that design,” Massery said.
If a foreign government wants to purchase a TACOM product, the U.S. Department of Defense has to approve their intent to purchase, Massery said. However, the BearCat is not a TACOM product.
“The BearCat is what is called a COTS product; it’s an acronym for commercial off the shelf. Commercial off the shelf product does not require tank and army command permission to be sold to a foreign government,” Massery said.
“If we want to make a sale of a Lenco BearCat to the country of Morocco, which we did, we only have to get State Department approval, not TACOM approval,” Massery said.
Despite being a commercial contractor, Lenco is also awarded U.S. defense contracts. According to governmentcontractswon.com, from 2000 to 2010, Lenco has been awarded 29 contracts totaling $11,018,335. In 2005, Lenco was awarded a single contract worth a total of $7,982,836 and in 2010, Lenco was awarded nine contracts totaling $352,464, according to the website.
Despite these numbers, the Feb. 9 Keene City Council BearCat meeting showed that not everyone was keen on the idea of being awarded the funds to purchase a BearCat.
Members of the Free Keene movement have voiced their opposition of this decision on their website freekeene.com. Free Keene blogger, Kelly Voluntaryist, wrote on the freekeene.com website that “We the ‘citizens’ of Keene do not want to have a BearCat in our peaceful city, and we the ‘citizens’ have worked very hard to express our feelings. Jim (Massery), are you saying that our feelings do not matter and that you would like to force us to have a BearCat in our city? That sure doesn’t sound like something a Christian would do.”
“We think that the Free Keene movement to have done what they do, have mischaracterized it. I don’t have a lot of respect for them. I put them in the same category as Jehovah Witnesses and hating blood transfusions. Who the heck told them to hate blood transfusions? So they’re against something good,” Massery said.
Despite the negative commentary, Massery said that the city of Keene could absolutely benefit from owning a BearCat.
“The argument on the other side is that there is too much violence. There are too many guns. That’s not our problem, that’s not Lenco’s problem. We’re the solution to the problem, we’re not the cause of the problem,” Massery said.
But, the BearCat is there to save the day. Massery said that the BearCat shows up at every shootout with a crisis negotiator. “A crisis negotiator is a trained police therapist who tries to get people off the edge of hell, the brink of death, to come back and surrender and not throw their lives away,” Massery said.
The Keene police have cited events like the annual Pumpkin Festival and the Clarence DeMar Marathon, as circumstances where the BearCat could be used at events susceptible to terrorist attacks, according to the Keene Sentinel.
While Keene hasn’t experienced a terrorist attack, the last few weeks have seen heightened police response with a Walpole middle school student shooting himself in the school cafeteria and an armed man roaming the west woods of Keene.
“Lenco doesn’t cause school shootings. Police officers don’t cause school shootings. But they are there to clean up the mess,” Massery said.
Sam Nortan can be contact at email@example.com