Controversial BearCat vote expected tonight in Concord
By DALE VINCENT New Hampshire Union Leader
CONCORD — City councilors are expected to vote tonight on whether to accept a nearly $260,000 federal grant for the purchase of an armored vehicle to replace one a city councilor said had to be towed the last time it was called upon.
The grant proposal for the BearCat (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck) initially cited three groups, Sovereign Citizens, the Free State Project and Occupy New Hampshire, as examples of domestic terrorist groups whose activities might require use of the vehicle.Police Chief John Duval has acknowledged citing the Free State Project and Occupy New Hampshire was a poor decision, blaming the hasty writing of the application for the Department of Homeland Security grant.
The wording of the application has since been revised.Members of the Free State Project have said the grant should be returned and warn that the vehicle is an example of the increasing militarization of the police.
Opposition testimony at the August city council meeting, as well as councilors’ desire to get input from constituents, contributed to the tabling of the matter last month.As of Sunday afternoon, 1,532 Concord residents had signed a petition urging city councilors to vote no; organizers say they will be turning in the petition to City Hall today at 4 p.m.
Ward 8 Councilor Dick Patten said he’s heard from close to 100 of his constituents, most of whom oppose accepting the grant. But he said most of them didn’t realize it isn’t just for the city of Concord, but for the Central New Hampshire Special Operations Unit. The unit consists of nearly 20 communities, plus the Merrimack County Sheriff’s Office and Plymouth State University.
Patten said: “Why aren’t they coming to the plate, the other communities?” Patten is also concerned about the cost. While it may be a grant, he said: “The taxpayers are still paying for it.” He said he spent many years as a police dispatcher and can appreciate the value of protection, but he also needs to heed the wishes of the people who elected him.
At large Councilor Dan St. Hilaire, who suggested tabling the issue at the August meeting, said Friday: “I haven’t made a decision at this point.”
He’s found in speaking to constituents that the majority thought the vehicle was just for Concord and said he’s seen some shifts in opinion “when they realize there are a lot of communities.”
He said some people are still hesitant, fearing “the federal government is pushing it on us.”
Keith Nyhan, who represents Ward 7 on the city’s South Side, said he received a book about the militarization of police from BearCat opponents. “I don’t buy into the conspiracy theory,” he said.
He, too, said that many people argue Concord has its own armored vehicle and there are two others in the area: New Hampshire State Police have one based in Concord and Manchester has one just down Interstate 93. But Nyhan said the Concord Peacekeeper is 30 years old and the last time it was needed, he said: “It had to be towed.”
Nyhan said he is concerned about taxpayer money, but he is also supportive of the police department.
“It should be an interesting discussion,” he said.