Here’s how often, and why, London police use their light armoured vehicle

London police are increasingly using their light armoured vehicle (LAV) while they search homes and apartments for guns and drugs, new numbers obtained by CBC News show. In 2020, the service used the bulletproof vehicle six times. Three years later, that number jumped to 25 trips, and is on pace to surpass that in 2024, the data shows. “LAVs allow us to be up close and contain a residence when we believe there’s an armed and barricaded person inside and that it’s likely a firearm is involved,” deputy police chief Trish McIntyre said. “We have seen a notable increase in gun crime, we see an increase in gun seizures, we see basically general volatility in the city going up.But if London’s police chief wants to increase safety and trust in the police, he’d be better off putting the $500,000 earmarked for the LAV into youth programs and other prevention projects, said Tarah Hodginson, a criminologist at Wilfrid Laurier University who specializes in crime prevention,community safety and police oversight.   LAV deployments for criminal code or drug investigations (LPS data) 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024 (YTD) 3 2 6 20 16 25 10  “From a general perspective, any of these vehicles outside of a military setting is just militarizing the police. It also creates this image that police are at war with their own community, and that’s a really terrible way of setting up your police service,” Hodgkinson said. “If they’re really meant to be of the community and policing the community, then this is not going to do it.” The service currently has one light armoured vehicle and 30 officers trained to drive it. Another will be purchased in 2026 after the $492,000 price tag was approved in the city’s four-year budget. The vehicles have a life span of more than 15 years, police say.London first used a light armoured vehicle in 2000, borrowed from the Ontario Provincial Police, during an 11-hour standoff in Pond Mills that included dozens of rounds of gunfire after a man broke into his father’s gun cabinet. CBC News last requested LAV data from the London police service in 2018. Back then, the service had two LAVs, both 20 years old when they were donated in 2005 and 2011, by General Dynamics Land Systems. In the 12 years covered in the first freedom of information request, 2006 to 2018, the vehicles had been used for investigations 39 times. In the six years and three months covered under the more recent request, the LAV has been used 82 times. “Our goal with any type of emergency response is isolate, contain, evacuate. In simple terms, the vehicle, because of the protection it offers, allows us to be right up tight, right up close to contain any type of threat,” McIntyre said. But it could also be that officers are using the LAV more often simply because they have it at their disposal, Hodgkinson said. “Has there been an increase in gun violence in the last couple of years across Ontario? Yes. But are armoured vehicles really our best defence against gun violence? You could take that $500,000 and invest it in youth prevention programs, and you would see a dollar-for-seven savings in terms of cops, courts, corrections, et cetera.” ‘Community and officer safety’The current LAV is not a decommissioned army vehicle, as the previous models used by the London force were. Instead, it includes a engine similar to a Ford F-350, with a high-end transmission and bulletproof shell, McIntyre said.”The model we currently have has a ladder on the roof that can extend outwards. It has a mechanism on the front that we can use as a ram. There’s greater manoeuvrability.” The vehicles have only once taken gunfire, during a standoff on Adelaide and Cheapside streets in 2006.The four-year police budget gives London’s police service an unprecedented $672-million, including money for drones, Tasers, body-worn cameras, a new training facility and the light armoured vehicle. Attempts by a small number of city councillors to reduce the police budget ask were unsuccessful.   A London Police Light Armoured Vehicle sits on the driveway of the home from which police say they arrested several people. (Matthew Trevithick/CBC News)A recent University of Toronto study, the first of its kind in Canada, found that increasing a budget don’t necessarily reduce crime rates. But using the LAVs is one way to increase community and officer safety, McIntyre said. “If we attend calls which we believe there is access to firearms or potential for firearm use, we will deploy the LAV if we have the capability to do so. At the end of the day, it’s about community safety and officer safety,” she said. “If we can go and arrive and contain the threat, then our ability to minimize threats to the community and protect them is vastly improved.” The LAV is most often used when police are armed with a warrant and searching properties for guns and drugs, she added. It’s those deployments that allow for the high numbers in the last few years. “We run our gun task force, and it’s enormous work, preventatively,” McIntyre said.One recent task force focused on getting guns off the street that could be used in crimes, she added. “It’s all based on not who has a firearm or is likely to have a firearm in the city, but who is likely to use the firearm. It’s a response to the increasing gun violence that we are seeing and the volume of shootings going up.” The light armoured vehicles are not meant to cause fear, but to signal to people that officers are on the scene to do a job, McIntyre said. “When the public sees a LAV, it should be seen as a sign of ‘Okay, there could be a threat but this is under control. Tools are being utilized to minimize risk to the public and to the officers,'” she said. “It’s a high-end pickup truck with a different shell. It’s not meant to cause fear. It’s to provide the highest level of protection.” But seeing a LAV in your neighbourhood isn’t likely to alleviate concern or fear, Hodgkinson said, particularly if they’re used in neighbourhoods where people already mistrust police.  “I’m so frustrated with these kinds of narratives of, ‘Oh, this will keep our community safe.’ No, actually, if you invested in many of the things that are driving people to violence, you wouldn’t have to respond with these ridiculous vehicles.” An armed London police officer stands on a downtown street. (Amanda Margison/CBC)The price of another LAV, McIntyre said, is justified. “They have a life span of 15 years. So, conservative estimates divide the price tag by 15, it’s roughly $32,000 a year. What is the cost of a life?” London has a hostage rescue team, and officers trained to respond to security incidents at the train station and airport, she added. The LAV which will be purchased in 2026 will not have “all the bells and whistles,” McIntyre said. “It’s a model that allows us to do what we need to do but in a fiscally responsible manner, without the heavy price tag.” 

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