Concord City Council Tables Bearcat Vote

Hundreds show up to city hearing about armored vehicle grant; issue to be taken back up again in September.

Protesters show up outside the Concord City Council meeting on Aug. 12, 2013, for the hearing of the Bearcat armored vehicle grant. Credit: Tony Schinella
Protesters show up outside the Concord City Council meeting on Aug. 12, 2013, for the hearing of the Bearcat armored vehicle grant. Credit: Tony Schinella

During more than two hours of testimony, the Concord City Council heard from nearly 50 people testifying about whether or not the city should accept a $260,000 grant for an armored vehicle. Only four people testified in favor of the grant; everyone else testified against it, for a variety of reasons.

In the end, the matter was tabled until September.

The hearing started in the street – with about 200 people showing up outside of city hall just after 6 p.m., calling for the councilors to reject the grant. The protesters were a mix of different kinds of activists involved in the Free State Project, a group that is attracting people to move to New Hampshire to create a more libertarian state, and members of the Occupy New Hampshire movement. Both groups were upset that they were mentioned in the grant as possible reasons for a need of an armored vehicle.

The council chamber slowly began to fill up with people wanting to testify while outside, protesters banged on drums and gave speeches. Concord Fire Chief Dan Andrus was a bit concerned about the capacity of the room, which is only 100, and made sure that fire exits were clear in case of emergency.

In asking the council to approve the grant, Concord Police Chief John Duval gave a bit of history of the tactical team in Concord moving from an in-house, 16-member team to a regional team with 20 communities, from Concord up to Lincoln in 2007. The Bearcat was being requested, he said, to replace an aging Peacekeeper unit. If approved, the Bearcat, Duval said, would be used for “high risk situations” such as drug raids, hostage rescue, and search and rescue, and wouldn’t be deployed for normal operations, only in emergency situations.

Duval said that the unit would cover policing for more than 150,000 people.

Dan St. Hilaire, an at-large city councilor who was acting as mayor pro temp, decided to limit testimony to a single minute, due to the crowd size, much to the chagrin of nearly everyone in the room.

Carla Gericke, the president of the Free State Project, was allowed to testify for longer than a minute, and said the members of her group, as well as others, weren’t terrorists and there was no need for Concord to have “an attack vehicle.” She said the group was “deeply offended” by the grant application, calling it “fraudulent” and “misleading,” and adding that it defamed 15,000 state residents. Gericke was disappointed that she was unable to receive a public apology from Duval and other officials who approved the grant application and called on councilors to do the right thing and reject the grant.

However, Mike Little, a former city councilor, said the board should vote to approve the grant. He said comments about it being a tank were false and pointed to police incidents in other states where officers weren’t protected against firepower.

“You have no idea about the weapons on the street today,” he said.

Pam Ean, a former police officer, said the grant was “very disconcerting” and believed that it was showing that the police were becoming more militarized. She also pointed to the $17 trillion in debt of the federal government and said it was important for local and municipal governments “to set an example.”

But Sheriff Scott Hilliard of Merrimack County, who used to be the police chief of Northfield, said the Bearcat was “a tool in the toolbox that we have” and even though it looked “rough,” it was important to protect the citizens of all the communities in the unit.

A number of state representatives including Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, Rep. George Lambert, R-Litchfield, and Rep. Emily Sandblade, R-Manchester, all spoke against the grant.

Kim Murdoch of the Concord Public Safety Foundation said the group was in favor of the grant because the Bearcat could be used to help and protect people in emergency situations.

Jim McConaha agreed with Ean saying the federal handouts were becoming an “addiction” that “distorts your planning and decision-making.” He pointed to another item on the agenda – the purchase of 270 acres for nearly $1 million – that the council had spent years working on. McConaha said the council should look at federal grants the same way and compared Concord needing a Bearcat to the city needing a nuclear submarine.

“I would like to see this council take some leadership,” he said.

Irena Goddard agreed, saying that her experience in her native Czechoslovakia that the government would use schools, the law, and law enforcement to brutally implement the laws of the state under the guise of protecting people. She said the Bearcat could be used as a tool to “wage a war against the First Amendment” and “suppress free speech” like what was done in communist countries.

A Maple Street resident suggested delaying the vote to get more community input while a number of out-of-town residents, most from Manchester or neighboring communities like Boscawen, Chichester, Epsom, as well as communities in the special ops unit, spoke out against the grant, saying that the application written by the police chief made them feel unsafe in Concord.

One resident, Ray Fitzgerald, worried about the military training that came with the Bearcat and said that the military creed of conduct might overcome the police creed of conduct to protect and serve. He pointed to the Bearcat name – Ballistic Engineered Armor Response Counter Attack Truck – as proof to be worrisome.

“It was presented here as a rescue truck but it’s designed to be a military attack vehicle, to destroy the enemy,” Fitzgerald said, “and so given that, since we have been designated the enemy, we have some concern about that.”

At this point in the testimony, City Manager Tom Aspell jumped in and wondered if everyone involved would feel better if the city changed the language of the application and added that officials had been in touch with the federal government about doing this and they seemed OK with it. Aspell later met with Gericke, Hoerr, and Lambert to discuss language but were stopped in a point of order by Ward 10 Councilor Fred Keach who said he didn’t like that there seemed to be a side agreement being hashed out in the middle of the testimony.

Aspell later sat down.

Brian Blackden, a former officer, spoke out against the grant saying that the state police had a Bearcat that could be anywhere in Concord in 15 to 20 minutes, if needed. He suggested that the money would be better spent providing Level 4 body armor for Concord Police officers, so when they got out of the Bearcat, they would be protected from shootings.

A number of people also spoke about the corporate welfare angle, suggesting that the company that produced the Bearcat, Lenco, had lobbied Congress for funding for a product that even Duval said he wouldn’t pay local tax dollars for.

“They’re just taking money out of our community and giving it to a company that builds a product that is unneeded and unwanted,” said William Kostric, a supporter of Occupy.

Ian Underwood countered that maybe the council should accept the Bearcat and then sell it and use the money for something else.

Towards the end of the meeting, St. Hilaire suggested that vote on the grant be tabled until September which was agreed to later in the evening by an 8-to-4 vote. 

susanthe August 13, 2013 at 12:34 AM
Interesting that JR Hoell and George Lambert worked so hard to insert themselves into the agreement with Gericke. Could it be, perhaps, because George Lambert wants to be our next governor, and JR Hoell seems to be his peppiest cheerleader?
Brian Blackden August 13, 2013 at 06:18 AM
I hope if approved. although because the NHSP has one in town I hope its not, the Bearcat will get more care than the Central New Hampshire Special Operations Unit van sitting outside in the elements at the Chichester Police Department with a roof window open.
irena.goddard August 13, 2013 at 07:00 AM
Thomas Aspell (City Manager), John Duval(Concord Chief of Police) and Brian LeBrun (Deputy City Manager) all signed off on the homeland security grant application. They lied on the application. Usually if you lie on an federal application, there are major consequences. . . if our Police chief lies on an application, it certainly does not make me feel all "warm and fuzzy". These persons have NOT been voted-in, by the people and, for the people. Mayor Bouley and the city council has appointed them and therefore, those are the ones ultimately responsible. Be sure that will be remembered at the next election. Citizens are innocent before proven guilty. Somehow and over some time, with the War on Terror and Federal Grants from the Federal Government the local police departments are armored up, weaponed up (even the smallest ones have their own “protective vehicle”). This seems so far. . . from the simple “serve & protect”. This militarization of the police is yielding a mentality that the citizen(s) they are going after are always dangerous (to others or to themselves) and their deadly force has to be used to conquer or subdue them. And that has permeated down to the cop on the street, in downtown peaceful Concord and back again. A clear “us vs them” mentality is here. Do you understand, how dangerous this is? How this infrastructure of militarized police is eroding our Liberties?
Brian Blackden August 13, 2013 at 07:09 AM
The Chief LIED when he said their was not another Bearcat in Concord. Well, maybe a white LIE, the NHSP has a LENCO SWAT vehicle in town but the Concord Chief wants to be a certified Homeland Security Type II response team and part of that certification is possession of a Bearcat. He is self-serving and NOTHING will stand in his way as the City Manager thinks just changing the original FALSE application being changed makes it all better. Oh, if you try to return stolen money if you rob a bank I bet you still get arrested.
Kim Goodwin August 13, 2013 at 07:53 AM
I think it is great so many showed up in support of our city. I am not sure what these groups are all about, but I do know they are peaceful. I am shocked that our police department would train with Homeland Security for the unneeded Bearcat. Homeland Security bought almost 3 billion hollow point bullets (WHY?) to use on American soil. They cause major fear in people they train around. The fact the American people were called "terrorists" by the LT is enough for all the low crime cities to be afraid of this wasteful attack tank. We have the National Guard 2 minutes away, and I saw yesterday a whole row of large tanks like this. Anybody that pays attention to what is going on in the world would fear this. A low violence area like Concord and those surrounding towns don't need a fighting tank like we are at war on the citizens. How can anybody speaking for this be taken serious when called terrorists, and than changing it to "we want to protect the people". These are two different stories of why it is wanted. I would love to know what a Bearcat would be used for, and what cases have ever needed this before? If trained by DHS they will start using it for all sorts of reasons. People should do some research online about DHS and Texas right now. I know the people I have spoken to are all against this in Concord. I mostly don't want our police training with Homeland Security more than anything else.
Brian Blackden August 13, 2013 at 08:00 AM
According to grant data, if one accepts the Bearcat then they become a training puppet of DHS.
Kim Goodwin August 13, 2013 at 08:06 AM
The worst part about all of this is that in exchange for this attack tank our police would train with Homeland Security. Anybody who knows anything about DHS would know that is the biggest fear of all. If this happens I am sure that living in NH will be a much different place. Everyone who doesn't know about how they operate please research.. This is much bigger of an issue than the Bearcat itself. The fact citizens were called terrorists is enough for everyone to be afraid. The thought process is that of DHS to have said something like this. Thank you to all the people that went to this on behalf of the people of Concord.
Marty August 13, 2013 at 08:08 AM
Nice reporting Tony. Also, thanks for the Twitter updates last night.
Tony Schinella (Editor) August 13, 2013 at 08:24 AM
@Marty: Thanks. :-)
wakeupsheep August 13, 2013 at 12:28 PM
I am really glad this story is getting this type of detailed coverage. Thank you!! This is much more important that so many understand. DHS is not our friend.
wakeupsheep August 13, 2013 at 12:31 PM
If they get that Bearcat that means they will train with Homeland Security. Everyone should see what is going on in Texas right now. It is in Marshall Law with training with these Bearcats, and drills everywhere. Scaring people and pointing guns at them. This is what DHS trains cops to be like. It is a war against the citizens not any "terrorists" , but Vets, Patriots, and gun owners are considered by Homeland Security as the terrorists and not Islam or real terrorists. The statement made by John Duval should alarm everyone in NH.
laura upton August 13, 2013 at 09:55 PM
there are two points I am confused on. First, while I do not in any way support the CPD obtaining a second military style attack vehicle in the area when the first one is hardly used (NHSP) and do not feel that CPD has a valid use for it, or would even be willing to share it let alone be efficient in the time it would take to travel 'north' for circumstances where it 'may be needed' (to acknowledge that wide coverage range of the state of NH that the documentation provided it would be used for); is it even a valid point that the money could be alternatively used for body armor for the officers? is that even an option for the money from the grant? and second, why would the issue be 'tabled' until Septembers meeting when clearly the public spoke to the elected officials that were voted in by said public speaking out AGAINST having the Bearcat. why wasn't it plain just voted DOWN since clearly the public doesn't want or need the Bearcat in Concord New Hampshire? Do the council members feel that the longer they delay the issue the less people will show up speaking up against the Bearcat? and why would our Chief of Police be 'allowed' to change verbage on the paperwork when he was very clear in the allotted three pages what his use for the Bearcat would be?? Fraud is fraud. If a citizen lies on paperwork for foodstamps or other government money, they are DENIED and possibly prosecuted or at least REFUNDED the money. How is it that our Chief of Police is not held to the same standard? when in reality he should be setting the example? Where's the integrity and good character example? I am not seeing it here, and its no wonder that the community looks down on CPD and the way they handle the citizens with the highest officer of the department setting that kind of an example of leadership.
laura upton August 13, 2013 at 10:03 PM
*have a responsibility to REFUND the money. the government has no issue with taking income tax returns to Refund money they believe is theirs, or on behalf of a state or city / government agency.
susanthe August 13, 2013 at 10:17 PM
Laura - the issue of the BearCat was not the only one on the Council's agenda, but it took up hours and hours of time. All of the other issues that were put aside last night still have to be go before the Council. So, yes, it's perfectly reasonable for them to table it for a couple of weeks until they have time to take it up again. They will undoubtedly want to make sure they can do it on a night when there isn't anything else scheduled. Not everything is a plot.
Tony Schinella (Editor) August 13, 2013 at 10:41 PM
Actually Susan, most of last night's business was taken care of but the Bearcat grant (another presentation was cancelled). It was decided that there wasn't enough time for councilors to debate the issue and wanted to discuss it. So it was tabled. Having watched council meetings now for more than 10 years, I can tell that you that while it is rare, it does happen. :-)
Ronald Bishop August 14, 2013 at 01:53 PM
Just because a large, vocal crown was there does not mean that the public does not want this. If the issue of maintenance costs can be justified, then I see no problem with Concord having this vehicle. After all, as someone recently commented on another item, "if you're not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about." It's amazing how some quickly people change tunes when something like this hits closer to home. The bottom line is that some groups of people are (rightly) upset that their organization was referenced in the application. The solution to that is simple -- amend the application. Other groups of people are paranoid and think the government is out to get them and their guns. Those people can't be helped -- they'll always be opposed to anything that goes against their limited world-view. Another group of people support this, in that it will help protect the lives of the officers who are out there to protect us. But those people are being drowned out by the fear and anger emanating from the other groups. This issue should be debated logically, not emotionally. That's what we pay the City Manager to do. That's what we elect the City Council to do. We should let them do their job without being swayed fear, ignorance and anger.
susanthe August 14, 2013 at 01:56 PM
Thanks Tony - I was stuck in the hallway for a long time, apparently getting faulty information. :) I can't find fault with the Council's decision to take time to discuss the issue.
JPF36 August 15, 2013 at 09:44 PM
Chief Duval said that the State Police don't have a Lenco BearCat but they do have a Lenco BEAR that weighs an astounding 29,000 pounds. So why can't Concord PD use this if they need it? Duval again gets caught in a LIE. The Bear and the BearCat are the SAME TYPE OF ASSAULT VEHICLE the only difference seems to be their weight. Why can't the Chief just be truthfull????
Ronald Bishop August 16, 2013 at 08:21 AM
How is that a lie? You admit that there is a difference between a Bear and a BearCat, so the PD stating that the State Police does not have a BearCat is a truthful statement.
wakeupsheep August 16, 2013 at 11:22 AM
Why would Concord need either?
Brian Blackden August 16, 2013 at 03:40 PM
The Chief mislead by stating he would have the only urban use vehicle. The NHSP drives around Concord just fine, I've seen it and taken pics of it. The Chief merely wants to be a DHS Type II SWAT team and to be one they have to have a Bearcat. Hence the reason. And when asked if it was something he would be asking for if it had to come out of his budget he said,,,,,,,,No....


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