John Duval, the chief of the Concord Police Department, has come under fire in recent weeks for requesting that the Concord City Council accept a $258,000 federal grant to purchase a Lenco Bearcat armored vehicle for the department, a move that some have called “militarizing” local police.
Duval stated that the city needed the Bearcat to replace a three-decade-old USAF Peacekeeper, a similar vehicle, which was obtained by the department in 1981 through a surplus military equipment grant program. If approved, the Bearcat would be used by the Central New Hampshire Special Operations Unit, a SWAT team of sorts for a number of towns from Concord up I-93 to Lincoln, to be used in certain enforcement situations.
In the grant application, Duval wrote that he was concerned that a number of groups, including the Free State Project and Occupy New Hampshire, “presented daily challenges” and that home ground clusters of anti-government in nature pose problems for police forces, including Concord’s.
The comments have sparked outrage from both organizations as well the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union and the editorial page of the New Hampshire Union Leader. An online petition is also circulating calling on the council to reject the proposal and for the resignations of Duval, City Manager Tom Aspell, and Deputy City Manager Brian LeBrun.
While he stands by the basic premise that there are situations where the Bearcat is needed in the Central NH ops unit, Duval apologized for any offense citing the groups may have caused. He said that he was limited to three pages of space to explain why the unit needed the Bearcat and that limited the amount of text he was able to offer in the request.
“The three organizations that I mentioned … I do not believe they are terrorist groups,” Duval said. “I don’t know how clearer I can say that. I don’t believe that they are … it was a poorly worded sentence and paragraph and I’m sorry for that.”
Duval said the “intent of using them as example” was that there are people in the community who are politically “polarizing” who “attach themselves” to the otherwise law abiding groups and have caused situations that are lethal and disturbing that concern law enforcement.
“That was the intent of the following words, that they are ‘home grown clusters,’” he said. “There are individuals, who, in their own mind, rally themselves and identify themselves to this particular cause or that and take their behaviors and their views to an extreme level, that are criminal in nature, that cause disruption with quality of life and lethal situations in this country and we’ve seen that in a variety of different ways, for whatever reasons.”
Duval said the Bearcat was used to transport people from one place to another during extreme situations where officers would be in danger. Concord has been a part of the Central New Hampshire Special Operations Unit since 2007 when the department decided it would be better and more affordable, and has brought about a number of incidents ending safely, he said. Duval added that law enforcement needed to be prepared "for the rare situations" when the Bearcat was needed.
The Concord City Council will decide on Aug. 12, whether or not to accept a federal grant to purchase the Bearcat.