The Rook: What it is, what it isn’t and how it will be used to de-escalate dangerous situations

The Sacramento City Council last week approved the purchase of an armored safety vehicle known as “the Rook” for the Sacramento Police Department. The vehicle will be paid for by a federal grant, with no purchase cost to the City of Sacramento.

Approximately 10 feet long, 7 feet high and 6.5 feet wide, the Rook resembles a mini tractor or bulldozer, with extendable arms in the front. Its purpose is to provide “ballistic protection for officers and citizens during high-risk search warrants, hostage situations, barricaded subjects and other circumstances,” a City staff report said.

Following Council discussion and approval, some people have likened the Rook to “a tank” and expressed concerns about how it might be used.

In response, the City is sharing the following information so the public has a clear and accurate understanding of what the Rook is, what it isn’t, and how it will be used to de-escalate violent and dangerous situations to better protect both the public and police officers.

What is a Rook?

The Rook is a small, armored vehicle manufactured by a Florida-based company called Ring Power. It is built on a Cat Compact Track Loader chassis and resembles a mini tractor or bulldozer. It moves on a track platform instead of wheels, enabling it to navigate diverse terrain. It is not a military-surplus vehicle.

The Rook (left) is built on the chassis of a Cat Compact Track Loader (right).

The Rook comes with different attachments for the front, such as a claw device that can remove fortified doors or bars from windows and an “armored deployment platform” which can be raised several feet so officers can be protected while accessing a building’s second story.

Is the Rook a tank?

No. Tanks are generally defined as armored fighting vehicles designed for warfare and equipped with large, mounted guns. The Rook is a small vehicle designed to provide ballistic protection to officers and the community against armed suspects. It is not equipped with any weaponry or guns.

What will the Rook be used for?

The Rook “will be used as a rescue vehicle to save lives,” the City staff report said. “(It) provides safety for crisis negotiators at the scene and provides the ability to safely deliver equipment and supplies and necessities during high-risk operations.”

Because of its small size and track system for mobility, the Rook can navigate tight spaces and on soft ground. Overall, it allows officer to establish safe positions when dealing with armed suspects, assisting them in resolving dangerous situations using de-escalation tactics and potentially less force.

“This Council has been committed to investing time, effort and resources in less-than-lethal options as we have these interactions with the public,” City Manager Howard Chan said at the Jan. 31 Council meeting. “And this is another tool in that toolbox.”

How will it be deployed?

As part of Council’s approval, the Sacramento Police Department must provide reports of the Rook’s usage to the City Council and to residents in areas where it is deployed.

In addition, the Sacramento Police Department will seek input from the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission when designing a policy for the Rook.

The Sacramento Police Department already has specific guidelines and a policy in place for the deployment of armored vehicles. These rules state:

  • Armored vehicles shall not be used for routine patrol or day-to-day operations.
  • Their use may only be authorized by a watch commander.
  • Use must be based on specific circumstances of a critical incident.
  • Critical incidents must involve actual, threatened or suspected violence related to loss of life or serious bodily injury.

The Rook “will only be used in the most dangerous of situations,” said Sacramento Police Chief Kathy Lester said at the Council meeting. “It’s not used for things like protests or camp cleanups.”

The Sacramento Sheriff’s Office has a Rook. Why does the Sacramento Police Department need its own, especially if it already has two armored vehicles?

In contrast to the Sacramento Police Department’s two other armored vehicles (known as BearCats), the Rook is smaller and more maneuverable. It also offers the ability to lift officers to the second or even third story of a building for uses including rescues and evacuations.

Since 2019, the Sacramento Police Department has requested assistance from the Sheriff’s Office and its Rook 13 times. During three of those incidents, the Rook did not arrive in time to be used.

 How much does the Rook cost?

The Rook costs approximately $440,000. It will be paid for by an Urban Area Security Initiative grant from the federal government.

As part of the grant, the Rook will be shared with other agencies in the region upon request.

Next steps

The City of Sacramento and the Sacramento Police Department will share updated information with the public as additional guidelines for the Rook are established.

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