Keene City Council will revisit $286,000 Homeland Security grant for vehicle
Enraged at the potential idea of a tank rolling down the lovely causeway of Main Street, Keene residents roared to life to refute the acceptance of a federal grant to purchase a $286,000 armored vehicle by Keene City Council Members.
“Thanks but No Tanks!” had been the motto all week for Keene residents trying to oust the idea of allowing an armored vehicle to reside in town. The Keene City Council voted 12-1 on its Dec. 15 meeting to accept a federal grant that would allow LENCO Industries of Pittsfield, Mass. to develop a tactical S.W.A.T. vehicle for use of the Keene Police Dept. The lone vote against the acceptance of the grant belongs to Terry Clark, who is a journalism graduate of Keene State College.
“I am here to ask you to have the courage and rescind the grant to purchase a LENCO BearCat,” Clark said. Clark originally ran for City Council on the advocacy program of getting more police to roam the streets on foot to interact with townsfolk. Clark liked the idea of purchasing this, “tank” to, “fictionalizing action film writer scenarios of Hollywood.” He went on to ask, “Do we really need to allow this paranoia of a militarized police force in Keene to go on?”
Scores of residents from Keene, city officials, and businessmen including two LENCO Industries representatives filled the second floor room in City Hall on Feb. 9, 2012. The sardine packed room enlisted over a total of 90 spectators, with more than 30 people going on record to preach their opinions about the potential of Keene’s acceptance of this federal grant. The City Councilors who headed the meeting were Phillip D. Pregent, Kris Roberts, Mitchell Greenwald, June M. Donegan, and former Police Chief of Keene Thomas F. Powers.
Addressing the packed room at first was owner of Greenwald Realty, and chairman of City Council, Mitchell Greenwald. “Due to the large amount of concern, I expect all citizens who speak tonight to be in a polite business-like manner in concession of no more than two minutes.” At first Greenwald gave quorum to allow people to speak for up to three minutes. Then as the hearings went on, Greenwald ferociously cut down the speaking times to two minutes, then one minute, then finally 30 seconds per responder.
Also in attendance were more than 10 uniformed police members and fire chief members including both Police Chief Ken Meola and Fire Chief Gary Lamoureux, who both spoke before the public had their chance to attempt to dethrone the idea of KPD boasting an armored vehicle.
Police Chief Meola supported the idea by saying, “It’s an armored vehicle, not armed. Similar to a Brinks Security truck you see delivering money to the bank.”
Though the vehicle has been branded as a public safety vehicle by the LENCO Industry webpage, the idea is that it will be able to be a highly equipped S.W.A.T. vehicle with rescue mission capabilities, said LENCO Representative Lenny Light.
Police Chief Meola also said, “The BearCat is equipped with thermal imaging, off-road capabilities, hazardous materials handling capabilities and provides police escort if needed. This is a vehicle to be used professionally by professionals.”
Meola also boasted that the Keene police force will, “have no need for specialized integration to the vehicle” as LENCO will be able to familiarize officers with the new technology very quickly.
Keene Fire Chief Gary Lamoureux commented that, “This vehicle will be used for rescue missions, as the area we live in is susceptible to dangerous weather.”
But with mounting concerns, some citizens fear the image that an armored vehicle would bring to Keene. City Councilor Terry Clark issued a broad message before the hearings of the public concerning the BearCat, warning that, “We must stand up to the culture of war and terrorism scare tactics.”
Former Keene police officer of 27 years Edward Gross said that, “Keene is as good as it is today because officers in this town fight what we fear.” Being an open advocate for the purchase of the BearCat, Gross cited personal experiences such as the Keene State College riots when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and 2007, and putting to rest a school shooting at Monadnock High School in 1991. “If you want to argue the $300,000 cost, then argue the cost of a dead officer in the streets for not having the protection they need.”
While there was much to say, opposers of the Keene’s acceptance of this federal grant heavily outweighed those who supported it at the meeting.
Dave Braggler, who admitted only being in Keene a few days said, “It seems like unnecessary spending for the government. I have yet to see shootings, terrorist attacks, and I don’t need to duck while going to a restaurant. I won’t be fooled into living in fear.”
Concerned citizen Ted Speaks said, “While I have a lot of confidence in our police and fire department, I’m against this vehicle. Keene will be a shining beacon for the rest of the country by refusing to use these taxpayer dollars for purchasing an unnecessary vehicle.”
Keene resident James Plaut voiced his concern and said, “By providing a S.W.A.T vehicle, it’s saying that we’re open and prone to violence when we’re really not. This is a nice town and we want to keep it that way.”
Gloria Ruff also agreed by saying, “Police should have their own tactical gear. We’ve had a S.W.A.T team here for 25 years and if we accept the BearCat, we’re only inviting trouble into our town.”
While many stood up to raise questions and lecture opinions, only a few advocates of the BearCat stood up to the microphone. Brad Hutchinson said, “I would rather have this vehicle and not need it, than need it and not have it. It’s a public safety vehicle, are you all forgetting this is meant to save you, not kill you?”
Former Vietnam veteran Jeffrey Scott of Chichester spoke of unintended consequences. “In the 11-page report that the city of Keene filed to be awarded this grant, I saw the word terrorism multiple times throughout the request. Yet, Police Chief Meola has spoke nothing of terrorism tonight.”
While some took the open forum for an opportunity to bash police in front of a display of city officials, applause became a cackle of laughs from spectators in the rear of the room. “You are an extremely aggressive police department who prey on college students with awful attitudes. Every town has crimes, and my fear is that you plan on using the BearCat on college students,” KSC student James Carroll said.
Skye Stephenson, who works in the Keene State College Global Education Office got up to say, “This is a beautiful community, we don’t need this culture of war. I have lived in two militaristic dictatorships and we should stray away from those. Change is going to have to start happening at the local level, and that starts here by refusing to accept the BearCat.”
While Police Chief Meola expressed his viewpoints and answered numerous questions from citizens at the City Council meeting, he also said, “I hope to never have to use the BearCat, just as none of us expect or plan to use our homeowners insurance.”
The official vote on whether or not to accept the federal grant allowing the city of Keene to purchase the BearCat will go on record at next week’s city council meeting on Thursday night at 5 p.m. at City Hall.
Cam King can be contacted at email@example.com.
Graphic by Kyle Underwood / Equinox Staff.