Police

Concord, NH, Cops Want Armored SWAT Vehicle to Combat "Free Staters" (And Others)

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The New Hampshire Union Leader reports on the desire of Concord, NH, police to get all militaried up with Bearcat armored SWAT vehicles, paid for by the federal Department of Homeland Security, natch.

Excerpts:

Concord is poised to accept $258,000 in federal funding to buy an armored vehicle that police say would provide protection for officers and civilians alike during a terrorist attack, riot or shooting incident….

Concord's City Council will hold a public hearing on Aug. 12 about the proposed purchase of a BearCat G3 rescue vehicle, paid for entirely by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security.

The police department applied for the grant on behalf of the Central New Hampshire Special Operations Unit, which includes 20 local communities, Merrimack County Sheriff's Office and Plymouth State University. The SOU has an "early 80s-vintage" Peacekeeper armored vehicle, but it needs to be repaired "constantly," Concord Police Chief John Duval said.

Concord's City Council unanimously approved the grant application for a new BearCat last fall, according to Duval. But in the months since, some have raised concerns about just how and when such a vehicle would be used….

"Every year," Duval said, "police officers are lost in the line of duty protecting the rights of citizens. Tactical response units go into known lethal, hostile situations.

"And this vehicle is simply a vehicle to remove people who may be in harm's way, remove injured parties and bring police officers in closer."

The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union [NHCLU] is concerned about over-militarized policing tactics, and for likely good reason:

In its grant application to DHS, the police department said New Hampshire's experience with terrorism "slants primarily towards the domestic type," and said "the threat is real and here."

"Groups such as the Sovereign Citizens, Free Staters and Occupy New Hampshire are active and present daily challenges," the application stated. In addition to organized groups, it cited "several homegrown clusters that are anti-government and pose problems for law enforcement agencies."

[Devon] Chaffee [of NHCLU] called that language "alarming."

"It's far from clear to us why an armored vehicle would be necessary to address what are generally, by and large, non-violent movements that in fact provide little or no threat to the security of our state," she said.

Since the BearCat is not directly filled with offensive weapons, the police characterize it as no different than a Kevlar vest, essentially.

[Lt. Mark] Sanclemente [of Manchester, NH, SWAT] said the vehicle has been used when police serve drug search warrants or respond to incidents involving weapons; it's also gone to surrounding towns when police request assistance….

Sanclemente noted that Manchester's BearCat also is parked in a "low-profile location" during political events such as presidential appearances. "It's nearby, it's not out so that everyone can see it, but it's still close if it's needed."

I'm sure it is! Local cops ridin' around in a Bearcat, Jim: these are different times.

Free Press publications has the actual application for the vehicle.

I wrote a big Reason feature on the Free State Project near its beginnings, back in 2004. Garrett Quinn revisited the topic for us in our June print magazine.

Reason on police desire to overmilitarize.

Former Reason reporter and editor Radley Balko's very important new book The Rise of the Warrior Cop.

Learn more about the Bearcat from its sellers. And Reason on the Bearcat's use in civilian policing.