I’m all in support to give the police dept the tools they need to do the job of “Protecting and Serving” but this trend is unnerving to say the least. I mean, seriously?
NEW HAMPSHIRE – “We’re going to have our own tank.” That’s what Keene, N.H., Mayor Kendall Lane whispered to Councilman Mitch Greenwald during a December city council meeting. It’s not quite a tank. But the quaint town of 23,000 — scene of just two murders since 1999 — had just accepted a $285,933 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to purchase a Bearcat, an eight-ton armored personnel vehicle made by Lenco Industries Inc.
But those plans are on hold for now, thanks to a backlash from feisty residents. Resistance began with Mike Clark, a 27-year-old handyman. Clark, who said he’s had a couple encounters with Keene police and currently faces a charge of criminal mischief, read about the Homeland Security grant in the newspaper. “The police are already pretty brutal,” Clark said, claiming he was roughed up in both his encounters with local police. “The last thing they need is this big piece of military equipment to make them think they’re soldiers.”
Clark’s father, Terry Clark, is on the Keene City Council, and so far the only council member to publicly oppose the Bearcat. But Mike Clark said he knows how the council works. “They can pass these things without any public discussion,” Clark said. “And you don’t hear about them until they’ve already passed. But if you collect enough signatures, you can force them to reconsider the motion.” Clark did just that, collecting more than 500 signatures opposing the Bearcat.
More than 100 people packed a Feb. 9 meeting of a city council committee, nearly all to oppose equipping the police deaprtment, with about 45 sworn officers, with a Bearcat. One speaker quoted in the Keene Sentinel was Roberta Mastrogiovanni, owner of a newsstand downtown. “It promotes violence,” Mastrogiovanni said. “We should promote more human interaction rather than militarize. I refuse to use money for something this unnecessary when so many people in our community are in need.”
Since the 1990s, the Pentagon has made military equipment available to local police departments for free or at steep discounts. This, along with drug war-related policies, has spurred a trend toward a more militarized domestic police force in America. Law enforcement and elected officials have argued for years that better-armed, high-powered police departments are needed to fight the war on drugs.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the war on terror has accelerated the trend toward militarization. Homeland Security hands out anti-terrorism grants to cities and towns, many specifically to buy military-grade equipment from companies like Lenco. In December, the Center for Investigative Reporting reported that Homeland Security grants totalled $34 billion, and went to such unlikely terrorism targets as Fargo, N.D.; Fon du Lac, Wisc.; and Canyon County, Idaho. The report noted that because of the grants, defense contractors that long served the Pentagon exclusively have increasingly turned looked to police departments, hoping to tap a “homeland security market” expected to reach $19 billion by 2014.
Until only recently, public and press reaction to these grants and the gear purchased with them has been positive or non-existent. Most towns obtain and use the grants without much discussion or news coverage. At most, the local paper might run a supportive story touting the police department’s new acquisition, usually without controversy. But it has been different in Keene, in part because Clark and a group of libertarian activists have made the Bearcat an issue. […]
Many towns have purchased vehicles like the Bearcat, or obtained tanks or armored vehicles from the Pentagon, saying they need to be prepared for terror attacks or school shootings. When the University of North Carolina-Charlotte recently formed a SWAT team, for example, a police spokesman told the campus newspaper that the paramilitary gear and tactics were necessary to prevent another Columbine or Virginia Tech. Despite the heavy media coverage of campus shootings, they’re extremely rare. University of Virginia Professor Dewey Cornell, who studies violence prevention and school safety, has estimated that a typical school campus can expect to see a homicide about once every 12,000 years.
So, since terror attacks and school shootings are rare, police agencies tend to use their armored vehicles for more mundane police work, like serving drug warrants. (read more)
Lenco is trying to sell these vehicles to all towns and cities to make up for the anti-terrorism grant that was passed by Obama.