PORT ANGELES — It’s not exactly your typical county vehicle.
Clallam County’s very own armored personnel carrier — the Peacekeeper — is still waiting to see its first action in an actual crime more than eight years after it was acquired.
That’s a good thing, Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Peregrin said.
“It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it,” Peregrin said.
It is the only such vehicle on the North Olympic Peninsula.
Acquired at no cost to the county from a federal military surplus program in August 2002, the Peacekeeper is intended to protect law enforcement officers in high-risk situations.
It is used for training, Peregrin said, and is being stored at the Clallam County road shop in west Port Angeles.
It would likely be deployed in a standoff situation in which deputies need to get close to a suspect to negotiate for a peaceful ending, Peregrin said.
He compared the county’s ownership of the armored vehicle to having a fire extinguisher in your home.
“It’s a hoot to drive, I can tell you that,” said Clallam County Chief Criminal Deputy Ron Cameron.
The U.S. government originally paid $65,000 for the personnel carrier, which was made by Cadillac in 1994.
Before former Clallam County Sheriff Joe Hawe acquired the Peacekeeper, it was used at the Fort Lewis Army base south of Tacoma, now Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“I remember early on it needed some work,” Cameron said.
The vehicle is still being monitored by the federal government. Clallam County files annual reports about its use and could give it away only by returning it.
On one occasion earlier this year, the Peacekeeper was staged outside the perimeter of a crime scene near Sequim.
The standoff ended peacefully before the suspect even saw the 30,000-pound tank-like vehicle.
The Peacekeeper is not exactly comfortable to ride in, Cameron said. The roof is so low that people can bang their heads as they climb in.
“It takes a small guy,” Cameron said.
“It can carry several people into an event, and the driver actually sits with their head sticking out of a hatch to look out.”
The large tires on the personnel carrier are made out of a special material that keeps them inflated when shot. Top speed for the Peacekeeper is about 45 mph.
“There are minor maintenance costs associated with it, just to make sure it doesn’t sit in atrophy,” Peregrin said.
“The maintenance costs are negligible.”
Cameron added: “I remember when we acquired it, I was pretty tickled.”
But others at the county aren’t so sure why it’s here.
“We’ve gotten some good stuff [from military surplus] in the past, but this thing? I have no idea,” said Ross Tyler, county engineer.
“It’s just a standing joke around here,” Tyler said.
Tyler quipped that the county should mount a snowplow to the Peacekeeper for storm response. Problem is that it gets about four miles to a gallon of gasoline.
“There is absolutely no logical reason for this county to own an armored personnel carrier,” Tyler said.
Cameron said the Peacekeeper is primarily used by the Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Team, or OPNET, which covers Clallam and Jefferson counties.
Deputies train to rescue fallen comrades by taking cover behind the armored vehicle as it approaches a suspect.
SWAT teams from Seattle brought two armored vehicles to Port Angeles in 2000 after Clallam County Sheriff’s Deputy Wally Davis was shot and killed. One SWAT team had to stop for gas in Sequim.
“It’s nice to have it available,” Cameron said.
As a tribute to Davis, the Sheriff’s Office uses Davis’ badge number — S140 — as the Peacekeeper’s identification number.
The armored vehicle provides the “next level of protection of your people in critical instances” and can be used in a variety of applications, including hostage situations and evacuations, Jefferson County Sheriff Tony Hernandez said.
“It would certainly be a nice piece of equipment to have,” Hernandez said.
“Certainly, it is a sought-after asset.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at [email protected]