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Civil Liberties Union questions increasing use of costly military-style equipment by NH law enforcement
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.
"That's all it is. It is not digital communication, it's not a listening device, it's not weaponry, it's not any of those things.
"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 ACLU has submitted more than 255 requests for information to law enforcement agencies across the country regarding the use of "counter-terrorism tactics and of military equipment," she said.
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."
"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.
Duval said it's not so much organized groups that concern police.
"It's in those cases where things escalate for whatever reason by fringe people who attach themselves to these groups, because of the topic that is being expressed, that it becomes a catalyst for a lethal situation.
Chaffee said she's concerned that "having militarized equipment and using militarized tactics will result in escalation of violence."
And she asked, "Is this vehicle really going to be limited to those extreme circumstances that have been cited by the Concord police?"
"The essential function of this vehicle is to deploy people safely and to remove people, possibly, safely from a lethal situation."
"We use it as a protective vehicle," he said. "It protects our officers, it's there to protect the public."
And the SWAT team took it to Watertown, Mass., last April to assist in the search for the accused Boston Marathon bomber.
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."
Duval said there are legitimate questions about the appropriate use of SWAT teams.
"As a police chief, I don't want our citizens to feel that their police department is becoming a quasi-military unit," he said. "We pride ourselves on community policing."
Duval said he also understands questions about spending taxpayer money on such vehicles, which might only be used a few times.
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