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Concord lands federal grant to purchase armored BearCat vehicle

 The Concord Police Department submitted a federal grant application for a BearCat armored law enforcement vehicle, like this one being used in Nashville, Tenn.

The Concord Police Department submitted a federal grant application for a BearCat armored law enforcement vehicle, like this one being used in Nashville, Tenn.

Concord has received a nearly $260,000 federal grant to purchase a BearCat – an armored rescue vehicle that provides protection against weapons as strong as military-grade, .50-caliber bullets.

If the city council votes to accept the grant next month, the vehicle will arrive at the Concord police station within nine months. Police Chief John Duval said it will provide needed protection and security in emergency situations.

“It allows law enforcement to get up close to incidents where previously it was a more difficult task to do,” he said. “You had to rely on cover and concealment and . . . that could take time to plan because you don’t know what threat you have up a driveway or down a roadway.”

The vehicle itself doesn’t have weapons. Formally called the Lenco “BearCat” Model G3, its large armored portion sits atop a Ford truck.

“So it’s literally a box of armor on wheels that offers protection,” Duval said.

Concord applied for the federal grant last year on behalf of the Central New Hampshire Special Operations Unit, a group of 20 communities. Ten Concord police officers are assigned to that regional SWAT team, Duval wrote in a report to the mayor and city council.

The federal grant, from the Office of Domestic Preparedness within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, will cover the full $258,024 needed to purchase the BearCat. The city won’t need to provide matching funds, and the SWAT team would cover ongoing fuel and maintenance expenses. Duval said the vehicle will be kept at the Concord Police Department.

“The money’s there,” City Manager Tom Aspell said earlier this month; the city council will hold a public hearing and vote Aug. 12 on accepting the grant.

An armored vehicle isn’t needed every day, but Duval said he can think of situations where he would have used one. In June 2011, Matthew Balch shot and killed his wife, Sarah, outside their Penacook home. He then shot himself in front of their young children and his mother just as the police arrived.

Duval said his department sent many officers to the scene that morning. But the police couldn’t immediately approach the home because they heard gunshots and couldn’t see what was happening.

While it’s hard to tell if a BearCat would have made a difference, Duval said, officers wouldn’t wait to move up the driveway.

“Given that scenario again, we would have taken the vehicle and, with confidence of protection, driven up the driveway,” he said.

At a police standoff on Hoit Road last year, Concord borrowed a BearCat from Belknap County. Federal grants have also already provided armored vehicles to Manchester, Nashua, Keene and the Seacoast.

Duval said the death of Greenland police Chief Michael Maloney last year shows the importance of armored vehicles. Maloney was killed and four officers were wounded while serving a search warrant on a drug suspect.

“It’s the kind of thing where, when it happens, you’re really glad you have a resource for it, and it’s unfortunate that both locally (and) regionally, there’s been a need for it,” Duval said. “And it’s not just things that happen in metropolitan areas. Greenland was a classic example. That’s a small, peaceful Seacoast community where they had a major incident.”

A BearCat would be used to respond to hostage situations and high-risk arrests, Duval wrote in a report to the mayor and city council.

“This vehicle would have the capacity of responding to virtually any location in any weather or climate and would be armored to protect personnel from explosions and projectiles,” Duval wrote in his report.

While there are other armored vehicles in the state, Duval’s report noted that the Lenco Model G3 has greater capabilities than any other vehicle in New Hampshire. It travels off road and can continue running even if its tires are punctured.

Those features amount to transporting officers and others “with a high degree of comfort that they’re going to remain safe,” Duval said.

“This, in my opinion, is money well-spent and well-directed,” he said.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or
lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

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