NORCROSS, Ga. -- If you ever see a large tanklike vehicle rumbling through your neighborhood, take cover.
It's not a good sign.
The armored Lenco Bearcat only heads out to the county's most dangerous scenes, such as hostage standoffs, injured officers and high-risk arrests. It was unveiled at a press conference Friday at the Gwinnett County Police Department's West Precinct in Norcross.
It's no ordinary vehicle. It's an armored truck with a lot of extras. It's bullet-proof, has a two-way speaker system and a horn loud enough to jar a group of bears out of hibernation, and can carry about two dozen officers right up to a suspect's front door. And despite its bulky frame, it can reach speeds of 80-85 mph.
The price tag: $262,000, paid with federal forfeiture funds.
"It's the Cadillac of armored vehicles," Police Lt. Tom Doran said.
Doran is commander of the force's specially trained SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team. He knows all too well that when you're in a high-risk and unpredictable situation, you need every advantage you can get.
"The mission of SWAT is to save lives --- even the bad guys," he said.
His team is trained in everything from negotiations and neighborhood evacuations to sharpshooting.
With every harrowing incident, his team tries to find the best way to get the suspects under control without causing the situation to escalate into a shootout.
"It's like solving a puzzle," he said. "It becomes a passion."
The SWAT team is retiring its old armored vehicle, which is rundown after several years of wear and tear, the commander said. The new armored vehicle has some special features its predecessor didn't have, including an infrared camera mounted on the truck's roof.
If a suspect darts into a wooded area, the camera will track the person's every move, due to its heat-sensing capabilities.
Lt. Bill Walsh, a SWAT member, remembers when SWAT officers had to scrunch down behind a bulletproof shield while approaching a barricaded suspect. He said the vehicle will offer more protection for officers and residents who may need to be evacuated.
Walsh, commander of the team's bomb squad, also is excited about the department's new robot.
The robot can enter a crime scene and rotate its camera around to show officers where suspects might be hiding and whether they have a cache of weapons. It also can retrieve suspicious packages that could be bombs.
The department already has a robot, but police leaders thought a second one was needed. Sometimes dangerous situations happen at the same time, at different places.
The new robot cost $182,000 and was paid for through a Homeland Security grant, police said.