City police: Armored car needed

Last modified: 9/11/2012 12:00:00 AM
The Concord police are planning to seek federal grant money for an armored vehicle that would guard officers against .50-caliber bullets at a cost of nearly $260,000.

The police, who would share the armored vehicle with a regional SWAT team, want to defend their officers against gunfire during hostile situations, said Concord police Chief John Duval. He said he was spurred to seek the money in part because of the Greenland shooting in April, when several armored vehicles were sent to the scene after the town police chief, Michael Maloney, was killed and four officers were wounded while serving a search warrant on a drug suspect.

"Certainly Greenland was a defining moment statewide," Duval said yesterday.

The city council authorized his department last night to apply for grant money to cover the cost of the vehicle through programs paid for by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, including one targeted for terrorism prevention activities.

Asked how the vehicle would qualify for those criteria, Concord police Sgt. Michael Pearl said terrorism "falls under domestic terrorism, which is situations that we deal with."

"People hear terrorism, they're thinking global, they're thinking large scale. And terrorism just doesn't have to be equated to blowing up buildings or this grandiose stereotype," said Pearl, who also serves as the commander of the Central New Hampshire Special Operations Unit. "Terrorism can be a very small hostage situation in a school, or a residence, or an office workplace."

The special operations unit, which counts Concord among its more than 20 member communities, has a military surplus vehicle dating to the 1980s and is the only team of its kind in the state without a modern armored vehicle, Pearl said. When the unit helped the Concord police respond to a standoff with an armed man earlier this month on Hoit Road, it borrowed an armored vehicle from Belknap County, Pearl said.

"We definitely need this," Pearl said. He noted that Concord has played host to recent visits by high-level politicians - including Vice President Joe Biden - and, as the capital city, has "critical infrastructure."

With an armored vehicle of the city's own, "if something was to go bad we would have a good resource to be able to tap into immediately," Pearl said.

In his report to the city council, Pearl said the police want a Lenco BearCat G3, described on its manufacturer's website as "used by SWAT and Spec Ops teams at high security facilities for perimeter patrol & security." The model can go off road, a feature the police said would set it apart from other armored vehicles in New Hampshire.

The vehicle costs an estimated $258,024, but the grant the police are seeking would cover the full amount with no match from the city, Pearl said. The city would have to pay for maintenance, which Pearl described in his report as "the equivalent maintenance of a heavy duty pick-up truck."

"You could pull it into a Ford dealership and have maintenance done to it," Pearl said yesterday. "There's nothing specialized to it. Other than the armor."

The Concord police will apply for the grant rather than the special operations unit because the federal government recently changed its rules and is unlikely to award money to a regional group, said City Manager Tom Aspell.

Otherwise, "it would be something that would be better off for the region," Aspell said. He said Concord is the largest community served by the special operations unit, so "it made sense for us to be the ones to apply for it."

Last night's vote by the city council to let the department apply for the grant - the measure passed as part of the consent agenda - means the police can move forward in pursuing federal money.

But they don't yet know what dollars will be available. The resolution passed last night allows the police to seek grants through the Office of Domestic Preparedness, State Homeland Security Program and Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program.

All of those sources involve federal homeland security money, Pearl said. He's been in contact with homeland security officials and expects to know more approaching the end of the government's fiscal year Sept. 30.

Pearl said other state special operations units have been able to buy BearCats with federal money. In addition to Belknap County, units in Manchester, Nashua and on the Seacoast have similar vehicles, and Keene won approval for one earlier this year, Pearl said. He said the state police have a bigger armored vehicle made by the same company.

If the police are awarded the grant, they won't be getting the vehicle immediately. It takes seven to nine months to build, Duval said.

Since 2003, the federal government has given New Hampshire nearly $85 million in homeland security money, said Jim Van Dongen, public information officer for the state Department of Safety. He said 80 percent of that money has gone to local first responders, including fire departments and emergency medical services.

(Maddie Hanna can be reached at 369-3321 or mhanna@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @maddiehanna.)


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