Concord School Board to hold meeting about BearCat
The Concord School Board will hold a special meeting Wednesday to discuss a request from city officials to support the police department’s hope of obtaining an armored BearCat vehicle.
Earlier this month, police Chief John Duval asked Concord and Merrimack Valley Superintendents Chris Rath and Mike Martin, respectively, to write letters to the city council supporting the acceptance of a $260,000 federal grant to purchase the BearCat. Duval said he sought support from Rath and Martin because the police collaborate with schools on safety plans and the BearCat can be used as a rescue vehicle in school crisis situations.
“I view the schools as being very important stakeholders with our ability to respond to incidents,” he said.
The BearCat plan has provoked opposition from people worried about federal spending, the militarization of the police and wording in the grant application identifying the Free State Project and Occupy New Hampshire as daily challenges for the police. Duval asked for the superintendents’ support before the city council’s heavily attended Aug. 12 meeting on the topic, where a vote on the BearCat was originally scheduled to take place. That vote has been delayed to Sept. 9. Last week, five councilors told the Monitor they would support accepting the money, two said they would oppose and five said they were still deciding or did not give an opinion. The item needs support from 10 of 15 councilors to pass.
Martin wrote a letter to the council supporting the acquisition of the BearCat. Rath was out of town when Duval called and did not respond when she returned. Human resources Director Larry Prince relayed Duval’s message to her, and she was unsure at that time whether it was appropriate for the school to weigh in on a council issue. Rath and Duval have not discussed the issue.
It landed on the school board’s table last Friday during a joint school board and council committee meeting when Mayor Jim Bouley asked school officials to respond to Duval’s request. Bouley said yesterday he has no opinion on whether the board should or shouldn’t support the BearCat.
“I think as a professional courtesy he deserves an answer. I’d like them to consider his request,” Bouley said.
The majority of the board discussed a response at length Monday during a special board meeting about the school’s own safety related grants. (The board voted in favor of applying for a $24,000 grant to install blue strobe lights at the high school to help alert students to security threats.) The board then voted unanimously to have Rath draft a letter that will not support or oppose the acceptance of money for the BearCat, but will say the board supports the council’s final vote, Board President Kass Ardinger said. Members Barb Higgins, Nick Metalious and Bill Glahn were not present. Next Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. the board will review the letter and vote whether to send it.
During Monday’s discussion, board member Jennifer Patterson said she did not feel it was within the board’s authority to offer an opinion on the BearCat.
“It seems like a strange request to me because I don’t see what it really has to do with our role as school board members,” she said. “I just don’t feel qualified to say what the police department does and doesn’t need.”
The board then discussed whether a presentation from the police would be helpful in assessing whether or not they supported the BearCat and whether to even write a letter at all. Board member Tara Reardon said she felt the police department was entitled to a response. She said she would support getting the BearCat because it is an update to old equipment and could save children’s lives in a crisis.
“For me it’s an easy decision to make . . . if in fact it saves one child or one hostage, then I would be in favor of supporting it,” said Reardon, who is married to Bouley.
At Merrimack Valley, Martin informed the school board he was writing a letter but the board did not vote on it. He supports the BearCat because he believes it can better protect the police as well as children in a crisis. Grant applications require extensive work that the police likely wouldn’t have put in for an unworthy cause, he said.
“At some point in time you’ve got to trust the people you’ve asked to do a job to tell us how best they can do it,” he said.