As the jet-black armored vehicle rumbled past their apartment, little Ben and Leo stood at the window, smiling and waiting. The ominous shadow cast by the tanklike car, which the...

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As the jet-black armored vehicle rumbled past their apartment, little Ben and Leo stood at the window, smiling and waiting.

The ominous shadow cast by the tanklike car, which the Redmond police SWAT team has for dangerous missions, was quite a bit lighter yesterday. Officers dressed as Santa Claus and elves used the vehicle to give Christmas gifts to needy families, including 7-year-old Ben and 3-year-old Leo.

Santa — also known as Officer Jeff Swanson — climbed off the rolling hulk of steel and into the boys’ living room. He greeted them with several renditions of “Ho, ho, ho,” and then bent down on one knee.

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The young brothers squeezed next to the red suit and closed their eyes tightly. The elves rolled in two shining bikes, royal blue for Ben and flaming red and yellow for Leo.

Ben opened his eyes and his face lit up.

“I had an early Christmas,” he said a few minutes later, as he took the bike on a test ride around the parking lot.

Five families received about $2,500 in gifts, ranging from a Barbie doll and Chutes and Ladders game for the kids to a George Foreman grill and a gas card for Mom. Redmond police employees donated most of the presents.

KEN LAMBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Redmond police Cmdr. Ed Billington, left, as an elf, and Redmond police Officer Jeff Swanson, as Santa, yesterday present a bike to Redmond resident Ben, 7, as his brother Leo, 3, looks on.

For this year’s drive, though, they wanted to use something different — something like the V-150 armored vehicle, which the department received free about two years ago as surplus from Fort Lewis.

The car, essentially a Humvee on steroids, has wheels several feet high and a windshield so small that drivers have to stick their heads out a hatch to see.

The V-150 hasn’t actually seen any official police action yet, so its deployment yesterday could be seen as its first mission. It certainly seemed to improve community relations, as the officers parked the vehicle at Redmond Town Center for two hours before the gift-giving.

We want to “let people know that, yeah, we do own it, but we’re only going to use it in extreme situations,” Swanson said. “We don’t want to scare people.”

A steady stream of kids climbed into the car at the mall, sticking their heads through the various hatches and posing for photos. The black steel was obscured by Christmas lights, teddy bears and a boombox playing Christmas carols.

The appeal of the car is simple, said Louisa Murray of Kirkland, who couldn’t pull her son and daughter away. “It’s big, it’s different,” she said. “Not something they see every day.”

An hour or two later, 7-year-old Ben didn’t seem to mind the bulky car as he received his new bike. Swanson, playing Santa, had told the boys the car was his “Power Sleigh.”

“I thought [Santa] was going to fly in with his sleigh,” Ben said. “But it was so cool; he came on a sleigh with wheels.”

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or abach@seattletimes.com