The Concord City Council approved a controversial federal grant application for a new armored vehicle for the Central Operations SWAT Unit of which Concord is a team member.
Despite activists collecting more than 1,500 signatures from city residents saying they didn't want the Bearcat, two-thirds of the council approved of the grant, a 11-4 vote.
In speaking for the grant, Ward 1 Councilor Liz Blanchard rose to speak first, saying she wanted to “set the record straight,” about a meeting between herself and Concord Police John Duval that took place at an area restaurant before the vote. She said that accusations that the chief was strong arming her was “totally untrue” and that instead, she was asking “pertinent questions” about the Bearcat so that she could make an “intelligent decision.” Blanchard added that it was more within the right of councilors to meet with department heads.
Blanchard said she was voting for the Bearcat because it was the replacement of an older piece of equipment and would only be used for defensive purposes. She said in the wake of the Newtown school shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing attack, “we do need to be defensive.”
However, Ward 5 Councilor Rob Werner said, he would be voting against it.
“Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should,” he said. “I have become convinced through a variety of conversations that we have adequate resources.”
J. Allan Bennett, a councilor from Ward 6, agreed, calling his No vote “one of the hardest things to vote against,” adding, “I believe that we do not need this.”
Other councilors though, disagreed.
At-Large City Councilor Steve Shurtleff, a former law enforcement official, said he appreciated all the concern raised about the issue and agreed with the premise that was seen on a sign, saying More Mayberry Less Fallujah, adding, “I hope we never need to use this equipment.” But recent tragedies, he said, made it necessary.
At-Large City Councilor Dan St. Hilaire agreed, saying that he was pleased with the changes in the grant application taking out the comments about the Free State Project. He said that as a prosecutor, most of the city’s problems were domestic violence and mental health issues. But “certain individuals,” he said, created “chaotic situations” which made the Bearcat a tool the SWAT team needed.
Ward 2 Councilor Jennifer Kretovic called the issue “a huge civic discussion” but said the calls from her district in support of the Bearcat were "ten-fold." She said recent murders and armed robberies in the northern part of the city showed that it was needed.
Amanda Grady Sexton, a councilor from Ward 4, said she agreed with the concerns about the militarization of police but said the city needed the Bearcat to keep police and individuals safe. She said it was her "moral and ethical obligation to vote in favor of providing all of the tools that the city feels is necessary to keep our citizens and our officers safe," so she would vote for it.
At-Large City Councilor Marc Coen called the last four weeks “very interesting,” especially as he researched the issue and read about the concerns of the rise of the warrior cop. But he said while there were problems in other parts of the country concerning police abuse, he didn’t believe it was happening in Concord. He added that he had “the utmost respect for Chief Duval” and called the screening for police a “rigorous” process.
Ward 9 Councilor Candace Bouchard, agreed will the comment about Duval, calling him an “honorable man … we’re lucky to have him.” However, she had heard from members of the community and would vote against it.
Mayor Jim Bouley, Ward 3 Councilor Jan McClure, At-Large City Councilor Michael DelloIacono, Ward 7 Councilor Keith Nyhan, and Ward 10 Councilor Fred Keach all voted in favor of the Bearcat. Ward 8 Councilor Dick Patten was the other councilor opposing the Bearcat.