On Sept. 9, the City Council of Concord, N.H. met and voted 11-4 in favor of accepting a $258,000 federal grant to purchase a Lenco BearCat CBRNE Armored Rescue Vehicle. The matter was scheduled to be resolved last month, but intense opposition from protesters as well as hours of testimony postponed the decision until last night's meeting.
The item required a two-thirds majority (10 votes) to pass; Councilors Allen Bennett, Rob Werner, Dick Patten and Candace Bouchard voted against it.
“I have great trust in our police department,” said Councilor Liz Blanchard, who voted for the BearCat. “The BearCat is intended only for defensive purposes. There’s no intent whatsoever of using it aggressively. Unfortunately, I agree that it’s too bad that we need something like the BearCat, but when you look at Newtown, Conn., you look at the bombing at the Boston Marathon...it’s too bad, but we need to be defensive.”
“There’s confusion in the community about what exactly this vehicle is, and I will not be supporting the BearCat,” Bouchard said. “A lot of our neighbors . . . just have concerns that they don’t think this is something they need to see the city of Concord have.”
The initial application for the BearCat was criticized for naming the Free State Project, Occupy New Hampshire and Sovereign Citizens as groups which “present daily challenges” to the police. A revised application removed the controversial statement. Opponents of the measure have also expressed concern about police militarization and wasteful federal spending.
“When I look down Main Street I see officers on bikes – not in the Peacekeeper – and I believe that is the way that we should and will continue to operate here in Concord,” said Councilor Amanda Grady Sexton. “But it is past time to retire our current vehicle and to replace it with one that can work to protect our citizens and our officers in the case of an emergency that could mean life or death.” The Peacekeeper is a 30-year-old Air Force vehicle that has become unreliable, which the BearCat is now slated to replace.
Members of the Free State Project collected more than 1,500 signatures on a petition in opposition to the BearCat. “We went to public areas . . . we used sidewalks and we went to the post office, the library, city hall and we also did a bit of door-to-door,” said Kelly Owens, one of the petition’s organizers.
According to an eyewitness account, Mayor Jim Bouley and several council members were dismissive of the petition, as well as protesters outside of city hall who projected green lasers onto the side of the city council chamber building that read “No BearCats” and held signs proclaiming “Textbooks not tanks” and “$258,000 wasted tax dollars.”
BearCats are typically used to transport SWAT teams to and from hostile situations and to assist with the recovery and protection of civilians in harm's way during terrorist threats, hostage incidents or encounters with armed offenders. A BearCat is capable of being fitted with a gun turret, though this is not a standard feature.