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Concord city councilors weigh in on BearCat grant

 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.

Though the topic of acquiring an armored BearCat vehicle has been controversial in Concord, several city councilors said last week they plan to vote in favor of accepting the nearly $260,000 federal grant.

The council delayed a vote on the grant last Monday, after more than 150 people crowded into a meeting for hours of public input mostly in opposition to the BearCat. Councilors will discuss the issue and vote Sept. 9. To pass, the item will require a two-thirds vote, or support from 10 of 15 councilors.

In interviews last week, five councilors told the Monitor they intend to vote for the grant. Another five declined to offer their opinion or said they are still deciding. Only two councilors – Allen Bennett and Mark Coen – said they may vote against the grant. (Three councilors could not be reached for comment.)

“I happen to be very comfortable with the application and very comfortable with accepting delivery of that piece of equipment,” said Councilor Fred Keach. “I really don’t see it as an offensive tool at all. In fact, I think it’s very defensive in nature.”

The council heard testimony last week from dozens of people who criticized the city’s grant application for listing the Free State Project and Occupy New Hampshire as “daily challenges” for the police. They spoke against the militarization of the police and excessive federal spending, and cited fears that the armored vehicle could be used against law-abiding citizens.

Police Chief John Duval has apologized for naming groups in the grant application, and City Manager Tom Aspell said the city submitted an amended version. The BearCat would be stored in Concord but used by the 20 member communities in the Central New Hampshire Special Operations Unit. The armored vehicle can provide protection from military grade, .50-caliber bullets but is not equipped with weapons. Duval said it would be used as a rescue vehicle.

Councilor Dan St. Hilaire, who suggested tabling the vote, said it’s important to discuss the issue with the entire city council.

“I’m just kind of sitting back and waiting to discuss it with my fellow councilors,” he said. “There are obviously pros and cons to both sides of the issue, and I think one of the concerns is the grant application and the language in that. . . . On the other hand, there obviously is a need to replace the vehicle we have now.”

That current vehicle is an early 1980s U.S. Air Force Peacekeeper. It’s an armored vehicle like the Lenco BearCat, Duval said, but it is often in disrepair and has broken down while responding to a call.

Councilor Steve Shurtleff said the city’s history with the Peacekeeper should allay some concerns. He intends to vote for the grant.

“It was nice getting the public input, but some of the fears that were brought up, I think they lost some of their steam insofar as . . . some of the things people predicted would happen if we acquired the BearCat didn’t happen when we possessed the Peacekeeper,” Shurtleff said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of merit to their arguments.”

Coen agreed that the Peacekeeper needs to be replaced. But he said he has concerns with voting for the grant “as written,” given the application’s references to the Free State Project, Occupy New Hampshire and the Sovereign Citizens.

Coen did voice support for Duval and said he is not worried about the militarization of the Concord Police Department.

“So it’s just an unfortunate grant-writing exercise and certainly shouldn’t wipe out all the good stuff that (Duval is) doing,” he said.

Bennett said he will vote against the grant.

“I don’t think we’re in that situation where we need this and it’s very, very important to the city of Concord,” he said. “It’s a vehicle, and vehicles are needed sometimes, but what we really need is a good police department with good officers who are trained well. And I think that we have that.”

If the city needs an armored vehicle, Bennett said, it can call another community that has one.

Some councilors have not decided whether to vote for the grant. Councilor Dick Patten said he wants to hear from more of his constituents.

“I was not even aware that we had a Peacekeeper one until last (Monday) night,” he said. “I never even heard of such a thing.”

Councilor Keith Nyhan described some of the concerns he heard last week as “baseless,” such as the militarization of local police forces. But he said he does sympathize with the concerns about federal spending.

“Going into the debate next month I am going to remain open-minded and listen to my fellow councilors,” Nyhan said. “I am very confident that the council will make a correct decision based on all the facts we know.”

Mayor Jim Bouley, who was out of town during last week’s council meeting, said he is leaning toward accepting the grant.

“Since I got home, I watched the video of the meeting and I was very pleased with the quality of the testimony, and I was pleased with the level of discussion,” Bouley said. “I will be looking forward to sitting down with my fellow councilors at the next meeting for a public discussion of the grant.”

Councilor Michael DelloIacono said the Peacekeeper needs to be replaced.

“I just think it’s a good choice,” DelloIacono said. “I was a little concerned last (week) that people seemed to be using it as a fear factor that all the sudden we’re going to have this quote unquote tank – which is definitely not a tank – patrolling the streets of Concord.”

Councilor Liz Blanchard also does not believe the vehicle would be used inappropriately. She intends to vote in favor of the BearCat, but she said she is glad the vote was delayed so she can review the controversial language in the grant application.

“Honestly, I mean I can’t imagine that the Concord Police Department . . . just because they buy this BearCat, that they’re going to suddenly start a civil war and be aggressive toward the Free Staters,” she said. “So I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding and possibly a misinterpretation of the intent of the wording. But I do want to read that (application), but I don’t think it’s going to change my mind.”

It takes time to process input from dozens of people, said Councilor Jennifer Kretovic. She said she has not made a decision, and needs to consider “what is the greater message here?”

“It’s hard to do that on the spot, particularly when we had so much testimony,” Kretovic said.

Others disagreed; Councilor Amanda Grady Sexton said she wanted to hold the vote last Monday. She declined to say last week how she intended to vote on the grant.

“I heard a lot of compelling arguments on both sides, and I voted against the tabling motion because I was anxious to move forward with the discussion, and I felt that we owed it to the great number of constituents and members of the public statewide to begin this important discussion,” she said.

Councilors Candace Bouchard and Jan McClure could not be reached for comment. Councilor Rob Werner was not present at the meeting and did not return a message left last week.

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

Legacy Comments18

Let's be blunt. Aspel cited the Tea Party and Occupy movements. Both have a right to exist, express their opinions and the Tea Party has never been violent. It speaks to the mindset of public officials including the police statists which have built law enforcement into an industry. Now, if conservatives were in power and a police chief said cited "far left" or "progressive threats", the liberals on here would have a cow. Bottom line is that it is not a defensive vehicle and each of those five councilors voting for the Bearcat are more dangerous with their actions than anyone in either the Tea Party or Occupy movements.

Did he cite "tea party" or Freestaters?

Why not justify this on paper like we do in the private sector. Show us the amount we used the peacekeaper per year. Outcome of the use..cost to maintain... Can't the city make decisions based upon data and share that with the public...

This is because we live in a more violent society. When mentally ill people are allowed guns (because it is their right) then police have no other recourse but to do all they can to save their own lives. Because of tea party, right wing, free state Republicans, this country is entering a new dark age where science has no place and all disputes can be settled by who has the most might. I never thought I would live in the 21st century and people would still be fighting over evolution. Just shows never to underestimate the stupidity of the human race.

Tillie, your comment has many errors. Mentally ill people do NOT have the right to own guns, and the violent crime rates nationwide have been dropping for decades. More to the point of this issue, officer "Line of Duty" deaths have also been dropping for years and many more officers die in vehicle accidents than by gunfire... The bottom line is that Concord already has multiple armored response vehicles at their disposal and this grant application is just an attempt to get more "toys" via the PorkBarrels of DC BTW - Did you know that the grant appilcation listed "Occupy Wall Street New Hampshire" as a domestic terrorist threat. This issue is post partisan

"Mentally ill people do NOT have the right to own guns" That statement is true. It is a fact. But that hides the reality that under the current instant check system there is virtually no way to prevent a deranged person from acquiring a firearm. I'm in favor of the enhanced instant check proposal that would have helped in that regard - the one Sen. Ayotte voted against. What's your position?

You raise a separate issue. I will say that deranged people intent on destruction will find ways to do it, no matter how draconian/totalitarian the society. I will, also, add that criminals don't obey laws and projectile weapons are not that hard to cob together... Perhaps if people wanted more peace they would stop glorifying war and warriors. War machines like the BEARCAT have no business on Main Street USA. What's next? Parading missles like the Russians and Chinese? We need more Mayberry and less Fallujah, maybe then the kids would learn that use of force is usually not the best way to get things done...

Mentally ill people do have guns. What is classified as "mentally ill"? When someone kills someone on the road for cutting them off in traffic I consider that person mentally ill. What do you consider a good reason to kill someone? The man who killed his son in Manchester was to my mind mentally ill but maybe not in a legal way because even tho he threated to kill himself, his son and his wife his gun was never taken away. Minor disputes are settled with guns. Police are on the front lines and have no idea anymore what is going to turn into a violent situation.

Tillie, I think you forgot to add, "and they caused original sin and created cancer....." MichaelM is right. Facts always trump far left/rad/soc/left ideology.

I don't believe in Original Sin and yes many cancers are caused by them and the love of the almighty dollar. They don't believe in climate change, they pollute our water and food because they don't believe in sensible regulation. I really don't know what "facts" you people are always talking about. You are always sending nonbelievers to some right wing web site to prove your point. Look out the window, Man, watch the news, plain news not fake news with opinions.

"you people"? How do you feel when people related to your political beliefs write "you people"? What is "plain news"? Is that the Monitor? I think not, it is all propaganda....all news that is....

We have decided that mentally ill folks should be allowed to have guns. States have the option of who they report as being mentally ill. And many states do not report folks because they do not want folks to have that stigma on them and rights curtailed. So a guy who has been admitted to an institution for 2 weeks because he is depressed, etc, is not reported on background checks. o. The background checks are useless for the most part, and the govt does not do a great job of enforcing illegal gun trafficking.

"The background checks are useless for the most part...." That is nonsense on its face. Background checks work whenever they are used. If you doubt that, simply look at how many thousands of turn-downs there are every year. The problem is sales without a background check - the millions of transactions done without a licensed dealer. Your statement is equivalent to saying Nevada laws prohibiting gambling are useless.

Read my post, my point is that the background lists are only as good as the names on them. And because states decide that putting folks names on them who are mentally ill puts a stigma on them, they do not put names on the list and thus those folks have access to guns. If you have a list that excludes those folks, then you are missing the ones who are more likely to go off their meds and get violent. Look at who commits the crimes lately, many are mentally ill. And the govt does not enforce illegal gun trafficking on a high level. The stats are there. That does not mean I think we should not have background checks, it means we need better lists and the laws enforced.

In the debate on this issue, I have not seen accurate references to the actual cost of owning and operating these units. While the officials who want them are quick to point out that the initial cost is payed with our federal tax dollars, they downplay the local costs and make no references to the critical economic factor called "opportunity cost". A police spokemans in LA complained about the costs of the prank called "swatting", (where a prankster makes a false report resulting in a swat deployment on an innocent family) stating, “It’s fair to say in the tens of thousands [of dollars]. Per incident.” Meanwhile, if people search "The Sharpsburg Raid" -(A massive response against a harmless "prepper") they will see that, after calculating "opportunity cost", the raid is estimated to have cost over $11,000 _an hour_ Further, I invite the interested to search a few more strings: "Innocents Killed by SWAT” “The Rise of the Warrior Cop” and a US Senate Report called, “Safety at Any Price: Assessing the Impact of Homeland Security Spending in U.S. Cities” to see a bigger picture of the true costs of this trend Concord already has a BEARCAT and multiple other armored assets. This grant request is just more feeding on porkbarrels. No More BEARCATS. Better vests would keep all our officers, and residents, safer

Then you wonder why taxes are so high? Here's the government going to give a $260,000 grant, to a city that's not sure if they want it or not.

and...... Mayor Jim "Bully" Bouley is leaning towards it.

The democrat city council like all other democrats actually think that federal $$ are FREE MONEY

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