Union Leader Reports on City Council Ignoring BEARCAT Return Proposal

BEARCATThanks to Meghan Pierce for her report on the Keene City Council’s outright refusal to even hold a public hearing regarding councilor Terry Clark’s proposal to return the BEARCAT attack tank to the feds. Here’s her story:

KEENE – A move to return the city’s BearCat armored police vehicle to the federal government was rejected by city council members 11 to 3 Thursday night.


City Councilor Terry Clark made the request to return the BearCat in a letter to Mayor Kendall Lane and the council dated Aug. 19.


Clark asked Lane and councilors to withdraw from the Homeland Security grant that funded the BearCat and return the specialized vehicle in light of the “the lack of use of and practical need for, as well as the derogatory impact on our fine city’s name,” he wrote.


In 2012, the city accepted the $285,933 BearCat through a federal Homeland Security grant.


At the time, some residents, including Clark and liberty activists, expressed concerns that it was wasteful government spending and that it could lead police to misuse the 19,000-pound vehicle.


As a condition of accepting the armored vehicle, police are required to report its use to city councilors every six months.


In its first year of use, it was deployed 21 times, mostly for training, but twice for potentially dangerous situations – dealing with a barricaded suicidal person and another time for dealing with a reportedly armed suicidal person.


Recently, Keene’s BearCat and its opposition have been highlighted by national media because of the military-like response to protesters of a police shooting in Ferguson, Mo.


In a recent episode of the Comedy Central news satire show “The Colbert Report,” the city’s application for the militarized vehicle was mocked in a segment about the Ferguson situation.


In the segment, Colbert read selected sections of Keene’s application for the BearCat in which it named the annual pumpkin festival as a reason police needed the specialized military vehicle. “The threat is far reaching and often unforeseen . Keene currently hosts several large public functions to include . an annual Pumpkin Festival.”


Thursday night, Lane said he would accept Clark’s letter as a communication.


“This communication, the issue relating to the vehicle, the rescue vehicle commonly known as the BearCat, has been considered twice by the council, it has also been considered twice by the finance committee. We’ve had a public forum, public hearing before the Keene City Council relating to this matter and at this point, we don’t have any new information so I’m going to file this,” Lane said.


Clark said he would contend there is new information to discuss.


“I would say there is new information. Keene used to be known for things such as protecting the environment and innovative urban planning and things like that. Now we’ve become a national joke. I believe it’s time to reconsider what other information we’ve gathered through the finance committee in regards to the use of the vehicle,” Clark said.


Lane stood his ground, saying the city council voted twice, in 2010 and 2011, to accept the BearCat and since then has received semi-annual reports from police of its use.
“Regardless of what a national news satire show wants to say, out of context, about the BearCat there is no factual information that I’m aware of that has come forward, so the ruling stands,” Lane said.


Clark, along with councilors Emily Hague and Bettina Chadbourne, voted to move forward with a discussion of returning the vehicle. The remaining 11 councilors voted with Lane.


It is an “embarrassment to the political process” that a city councilor’s proposal to return the BearCat was shot down without a public hearing, Free Keene blogger Ian Freeman said Saturday.

Free Keene bloggers include local liberty activists, as well as those who moved to the state as part of the libertarian Free State Project, Freeman said. When the city first applied for the BearCat the activists were part of a movement to collect hundreds of signatures in an attempt to stop the city council from accepting the vehicle, he said.


“The city councilors ignored them then and they ignored that push (last) week,” Freeman said.


Despite the defeat, the Keene activists are having an impact, Freeman said.


When Keene residents opposed the acquisition of the BearCat, a representative from Lenco Armored Vehicles, the company that makes the BearCat, was brought in to “save the sale,” Freeman said, by meeting with city councilors.


Following a hearing, the Lenco representative told Freeman that it was the first time any community had opposed acquiring such a vehicle.


Following Keene’s BearCat controversy, in 2012 the Californian communities of Berkeley and Albany rejected a grant for a BearCat.


“Hopefully, we helped inspire that,” Freeman said.

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