Lenco Industries manufactures the BEAR and BearCat armored vehicles for military, law enforcement, and immigration authorities around the world.
Note: This company profile was written as part of AFSC's 2022 report Equipped for War: Exposing Militarized Policing in California.
Lenco Industries (Lenco Armored Vehicles) is a private, family-owned armored vehicle manufacturer based in Pittsfield, Mass. The company markets its vehicles to government agencies for use in the military, law and immigration enforcement, border control, and emergency and rescue response. Founded by Leonard and Rosemary Wright in 1981, the company was bought out in 1992 by current CEO and son of the Wrights, Len Light.
In 1981, Lenco introduced the BEAR, an armored vehicle designed for and primarily used by military forces. After seeing demand for armored vehicles from police departments, the company released the Lenco BearCat (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck) in 2001, which has been used by military, law enforcement, and immigration authorities in 40 countries. Built on a Ford F-550 base, the BearCat transports and protects SWAT and other special operations teams. The armored vehicles can be customized with features such as tear gas deployment nozzles and battering ram attachments. As of 2017, the base price of a BEAR came in at just over $300,000. 2021 BearCat pricing started at $211.267.
Lenco produces eight BearCat models for police and government special operations work. Some departments have several Lenco vehicle models; for example, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD) Special Enforcement Bureau has 10 BearCats of various models in addition to a BEAR. In 2016, an LASD officer fired an assault rifle from a BearCat gun port, killing an unarmed man wrongfully suspected of carjacking.
Our dataset shows that at least 12 California police departments purchased Lenco vehicles between 2015 and 2021, and that five police departments received BearCats from the Department of Defense (DOD) in 1122 transfers.
Outside the scope of the dataset, media reports show that at least 41 more police departments across California use BearCat vehicles: Alameda, Burbank, Calaveras, Campbell, Chino, Davis, El Cajon, El Monte, Escondido, Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles Police and Sheriff's Departments, Oakland, Oceanside, Orange, Oxnard, Marin, Milpitas, Napa Valley, Newark, Newport Beach, Palm Springs, Pasadena, Redding, Redlands, Redondo Beach, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Ana, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Santa Maria, Santa Paula, Simi Valley, Stockton, Tracy, and Tuolumne. Many departments purchase Lenco vehicles using grants from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or from asset forfeiture funds, where police keep money and other seized assets. Some grants from DHS come with restricts. Equipment purchased with funding from the Urban Areas Security Initiative grant is "prohibited from being used for riot suppression or dispersing crowds." While this limitation exists as a condition of the grant, it is unclear whether or how this is enforced. Lenco offers free consultations for agencies applying for grants to purchase armored vehicles.
Armored vehicles such as the BearCat are part of the increasing militarization of the police. After the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, at least 29 armored vehicles were deployed at protests across the nation. Police deployed BearCat vehicles at protests in Ferguson, Mo. in 2014, leading to calls for police demilitarization. Though then-President Obama signed an executive order in 2015 limiting the transfer of surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies, BearCats did not appear on the list of prohibited items. Local communities in California, including in Culver City and Oakland, continue to challenge the use and purchase of Lenco vehicles.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) use Lenco BearCats for its Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Special Response Teams (SRT). From 2019 to 2022, ICE purchased Lenco vehicles worth $11.2 million, including a $4.5 million purchase of 10 BearCats. ICE awarded Lenco a Blanket Purchase Agreement in 2021 that made the company the agency's sole provider of armored vehicles through 2026. The agency determined that the BearCat is the only vehicle approved by the General Services Administration with features that meet government requirements for armored vehicles.
From 2006 to 2015, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) also purchased six Lenco vehicles. CBP bought at least two BearCats for the Border Patrol Special Operations Group in El Paso, Texas, while other vehicles were delivered to Fort Bliss, Texas and Tucson, Ariz. In 2014, CBP paid $845,500 for two BearCats to be used by the U.S. Border Patrol Tactical Units (BORTAC) in El Paso and Del Rio, Texas. CBP has also been documented using a BearCat at the San Ysidro port of entry in California.
Agencies within the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) purchased Lenco vehicles and parts between 2005 and 2020. Most of the vehicles were purchased by the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM), which is responsible for $61 million of the total $63.8 million spent by DOD agencies. SOCOM leads and trains special operations forces in all branches of the U.S. military.
BearCats have also been used by police and military in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Hungary, Morocco, and the Netherlands. In 2017, U.S.-backed forces in Syria received BearCats as part of American-led coalition aid.