San Leandro police say ARCO SWAT standoff is reason to get BearCat

SAN LEANDRO, Calif. (KGO) -- While police investigate a crime spree that spanned several cities Wednesday afternoon, we're learning more about what went on inside the Antioch gas station where two men were held hostage for hours.

One of the hostages was the owner of the ARCO gas station on Contra Loma Boulevard in Antioch. Jagdish Bhalla, 75, says he's owned the place for 23 years and has been held up about 15 times. Though the hostage situation was out of the ordinary, he says it was not terribly frightening.

On Thursday, May 27, 2015 a carjacking suspect took ARCO gas station owner Jagdish Bhalla hostage on Contra Loma Boulevard in Antioch, Calif. (KGO-TV)

Over the decades, Bhalla has made a lot of friends, many of whom stopped by to see how he was doing.

Just 24 hours after being held captive for more than two hours by an armed man, Bhallah told ABC7 News he is not only OK, but he has a message for his captor.

"Wish you all the best in life, and thank you... for not hurting us," Bhallah said.

As it turned out, Bhalla's station was the suspect's last stop on a spree that began with a car theft, a police chase, a crash and then a series of attempted carjacks.

Witness Frank Williams said, "He had the gun pointed at me and all I could think was either you hit him or he's going to shoot you."

VIDEO: Antioch hostage crisis ends after carjacking suspect surrenders

Once inside the tiny office of the ARCO station, Bhallah told ABC7 News both he and his captor used security cameras to monitor the police activity outside, including their use of a robot and an armored vehicle.

"The vehicle was used to actually be a shield for officers that were moving from point to point. It was actually used to transport the hostages," Antioch Police Chief Allan Cantando said.

Around mid-afternoon, Bhallah was released. Then, a short time later, the station's manager was released before the suspect walked out and surrendered to police.

Police have released the suspect's identity as 35-year-old Horacio Gutierrez of Newark. He was booked into the Contra Costa County jail on charges including assault with a deadly weapon, carjacking, and kidnapping.

The police response to the hostage situation shined a spotlight on a controversial issue. Critics say armored vehicles are unnecessary and only serve to militarize police departments, but local SWAT teams are saying this week's standoff proved those vehicles can be life savers.

PHOTOS: Hostage situation at Antioch ARCO gas station

On Thursday, the San Leandro Police Department hosted a SWAT fitness competition where teams worked together to reach their goals, much like the day before when the Antioch SWAT team had to save two hostages.

Antioch Police Chief Allan Cantando says it couldn't have been done without the use of its armored vehicle. He told ABC7 News, "The vehicle was used to be a shield officers who were moving from point to point. It was actually used to transport the hostages when they came out of gas station."

Antioch police say the armored vehicle is only used when dealing with an armed suspect.

The San Leandro Police Department has been trying to convince critics why it needs one too.

Luis Mendoza is one of the dozens of residents who fought against the idea of one coming to his town. He told ABC7 News, "You get police force coming in with this huge vehicle that are very, very imposing and threatening. And usually what that is doing is escalating the situation."

"The tactics have changed a lot in the past 10 years and there's a lot of people now, unfortunately, in public that probably need help and this just gives us another tool to get tools closer to them without having to use lethal force," San Leandro Police Lt. Randy Brandt said.

Despite protests, the San Leandro Police Department will be using a grant to get a rescue armored vehicle that police and fire will be able to use jointly. null
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