CONCORD — The City Council voted 11-4 to accept a $260,000 federal grant for an armored police vehicle Monday night, despite a great deal of public opposition.
The BearCat vote was scheduled last month, but there was so much public comment, the matter was tabled until Monday night. By order of the Fire Department, the crowd inside the council chamber was limited to 100, but there were at least as many people outside opposing the BearCat as there were in the meeting.
The vote did not take long.
"We're replacing a current piece of equipment that's failing. I have great trust in our police department," Ward 1 Councilor Elizabeth Blanchard said before announcing she would vote in favor of the grant for the Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck. "I agree it's unfortunate that we need something like the BearCat."
Ward Five Councilor Robert Werner was one of the four opposing votes.
"Just because we can, doesn't mean we should," he said.
The BearCat will serve the city of Concord and 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.
Police Chief John Duval's wording of the Department of Homeland Security grant application — citing the Free State Project and Occupy New Hampshire among the potential threats that made the BearCat necessary — helped fuel the controversy.
The wording was revised, but that did little to change the minds of the protesters, who remained outside 30 minutes after the vote.
"I take responsibility," Duval said after the vote. "I was trying to illustrate a more detailed position that some individuals attach themselves to polarizing issues, and in doing so they may do things that are illegal and their behaviors may be dangerous. Clearly the wording didn't come across that way."
Duval said he was glad the process had finally come to a conclusion.
"I don't want to see equipment used that will oppresses individual rights in this country. But the stark reality is our law enforcement officers are asked at times to do things that are extraordinary and put their life in peril. It's my responsibility to give them what is needed to perform their jobs," he said. "If I never have to use this vehicle, I'll be a happy person."
Carla Gericke, president of the Free State Project, was among dozens who left the meeting after the vote.
"You hope people are going to do the right thing and I think we gave them ample opportunity to do so," Gericke said. "I still think there's a misrepresentation. I don't think New Hampshire has a problem with domestic terrorists and I don't think that there's a need for this vehicle."
Reaction was muted among those gathered outside.
"I think people didn't freak out so much because they probably knew it was going to pass. I was expecting people to be extremely upset — yelling and whatever, and I would have been with them," said Keene resident Jay Philpiano. "It's supposed to be the other way around. The public is supposed to be more powerful than public officials."
Voting in favor of accepting the grant were Ward 1's Blanchard; Jennifer Kretovic, Ward 2; Jan McClure, Ward 3; Amanda Grady Sexton, Ward 4; Keith Nyhan, Ward 7; Fred Keach, Ward 10; at-large councilors Mark Coen, Michael DelloIacono, Stephen Shurtleff and
Dan St. Hilaire; and Mayor Jim Bouley.
Voting no were Ward 5's Werner; J. Allen Bennett, Ward 6; Dick Patten, Ward 8; and Candace C.W. Bouchard, Ward 9.