Concord City Council accepts grant for BearCat vehicle

Last modified: 9/10/2013 11:41:29 PM
A BearCat is coming to Concord.

The city council voted, 11-4, last night to accept a $258,000 federal grant to purchase an armored BearCat vehicle – an issue that has brought debate, protest and petitions to Concord this summer.

The item required 10 votes to pass; Councilors Allen Bennett, Rob Werner, Dick Patten and Candace Bouchard voted against it.

Many councilors voiced support last night for police Chief John Duval, who has been criticized for the city’s grant application citing the Free State Project and other groups as “daily challenges” for the police department.

“I have great trust in our police department,” said Councilor Liz Blanchard. “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.”

The council tabled the item and delayed the vote last month, after more than 50 people testified at a public hearing. Most people who spoke to the council were opposed to the city’s acquisition of the armored vehicle. Many criticized the city’s grant application for listing the Free State Project, Occupy New Hampshire and the Sovereign Citizens as challenges to law enforcement.

Duval has since apologized for his choice of words, and the city has submitted a proposed amendment to the application that the state Department of Safety added to the city’s file.

Opponents have also expressed concern about excessive federal spending, the militarization of local police departments and their fear that the vehicle could be used against peaceful citizens.

Bouchard said her constituents in Ward 9 have voiced concern about the BearCat. She called Duval “a very honorable man,” but she voted against the grant.

“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 Lenco BearCat is an armored vehicle that can protect against weapons as powerful as military grade, .50-caliber bullets. The city council accepted the nearly $260,000 on behalf of the 20 communities in the Central New Hampshire Special Operations Unit. Those 20 cities and towns will own the vehicle together, pay for its ongoing maintenance costs and use it in emergency situations. As the largest city in the group, Concord applied for the grant and will store the BearCat.

Bennett said he does not believe Concord needs a BearCat because it could call for assistance from other communities or law enforcement groups in an emergency situation.

“This will be one of the hardest things for me to vote against” in 10 years on the city council, Bennett said.

Duval has said the BearCat would be used to protect police officers during hostage situations, shootings and high-risk arrests. It will replace an aging vehicle; the special operations unit now has an early 1980s Air Force Peacekeeper that is armored like the BearCat but has broken down while responding to emergency situations.

“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.”

Councilor Dan St. Hilaire, who has worked as a prosecutor, said he has experienced many mental health and domestic violence situations, and it’s necessary to keep police officers and victims safe.

“I’m definitely going to be voting for this,” he said.

Though there was no public testimony at last night’s meeting, a group called “No More BearCats” announced yesterday that it had signatures from more than 1,500 Concord residents who opposed the grant.

“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.

The petition signers were asked to provide their address to prove they live in Concord, said Owens, who lives in Manchester but became involved over her concern over federal spending and the city’s grant application. The petition was sent to Concord city councilors yesterday morning and presented to the city clerk’s office.

There was no public testimony about the BearCat at last night’s meeting, but Mayor Jim Bouley told audience members beforehand that the council had received the petition.

“I just want to let you know we all got it,” Bouley said.

Councilor Jennifer Kretovic said last night that she has received more feedback in support of the BearCat than against it from her constituents.

“At the end of the day I have to stand here and I have to vote for my ward,” Kretovic said. “And my ward reached out tenfold to say get this BearCat.”

Before last night’s meeting, dozens of protesters gathered outside city hall. They projected green lights onto the side of the city council chamber building that read “No Bearcats” and held signs proclaiming “Textbooks not tanks” and “$258K wasted tax dollars.”

Among the speakers at the pre-meeting gathering were Free State Project President Carla Gericke and Jack Kimball, former chairman of the state Republican Party. They voiced concerns about the police and Duval’s grant application.

Councilor Steve Shurtleff referenced the anti-BearCat signs as he voiced support for the Concord police and the federal grant.

“I see one gentleman holding a sign that says ‘More Mayberry Less Fallujah,’ ” Shurtleff said. “I think that’s a philosophy we all embrace. . . . I hope we never need to use this piece of equipment, but I’d be glad to know our local law enforcement has it in case they do.”

After last night’s vote, most audience members filed quietly out of the city council chamber. Protesters continued to gather on the sidewalk outside.

Some asked Concord residents to consider running for city council this fall on an anti-BearCat platform.

“I’m trying to find Concord residents here who I can talk into running,” said Dennis Corrigan of Pittsfield, as he held a stack of papers with a list of the current city councilors and information about the Nov. 5 city election.

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


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