02/17/2012

SWAT vehicle causes backlash in NH

'It's really just an armored truck,' but citizens think otherwise

By PoliceOne Staff

KEENE, N.H. — A police department's purchase of a specialty SWAT vehicle caused backlash from residents who claim it contributes to "militarization" of the police.

Keene City Council approved the purchase of a LENCO BearCat with a $285,933 federal Homeland Security grant in December, according to The Keene Sentinel, but last week a petition signed by more than 400 residents was submitted to ask the council not to accept the grant.

Equipped with a thermal imaging camera, hazardous gas and radioactive material detectors and off-road capabilities, the BearCat is designed to handle special calls involving suspicious packages or  materials, according to Keene Police Chief Kenneth J. Meola.

“It really is just an armored truck, built on the base of a Ford F550 pickup truck,” Meola said. Its appearance seems to intimidate citizens, such as one who said it seems violent.

"Rather than militarize, we should promote more human interaction," store owner Roberta Mastrogiovanni said.

Councilor Terry M. Clark claimed the vehicle "is continuing to fund the culture of war in this country."

At the meeting where the petition was submitted, officers said cops in life-threatening situations would be protected by the vehicle's bulletproof glass and armored sides.

"We need to protect our officers," Edward Gross, a Keene police officer of more than 20 years, said.

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