from the legislative-trench-warfare dept
The militarization of law enforcement agencies is a worrying development. It's not necessarily new. Law enforcement agencies have been converting police departments into quasi-military outfits for years, most of it spurred on by the over-deployment of SWAT teams to handle basic arrests and take down ever-so-dangerous marijuana users.
The push has become a shove in the last decade or so, as the government has handed out grants to purchase military-grade vehicles and equipment, when not just simply handing over the keys to something like Lenco's BearCat to any PD that requests one.
Not pictured: any logical reason a town of 42,000 should have a bulletproof assault vehicle
A New Hampshire state representative, J.R. Hoell, is trying to push back against this and further separate our military and law enforcement entities.
Enter State Representative J.R. Hoell, a libertarian Republican who represents Dunbarton, NH, just outside of Concord. Hoell recently introduced a bill, the Police Equipment and Community Engagement (PEACE) Act, in the state legislature.Why is Hoell doing this? Well, it's because the city of Concord recently ignored its own citizens' wishes and allowed its police department to acquire a surplus BearCat.
The proposed legislation is now in committee. If it’s passed and signed into law by the governor, state and municipal agencies in New Hampshire will be barred from buying or even accepting free offers of “military style equipment” for police use, except with the approval of the assembled citizenry at a public town meeting.
That prohibition would include not just MRAPS and BearCats, but also things like fully automatic weapons or anything that is not “available in an open commercial market.”
Concord, NH has a population of 42,000 and has racked up three murders in the last decade. While its crime rates are higher than nearby towns (towns with populations far below Concord's), its rates are much lower than the national average. The Concord PD had a hard time justifying the acquisition of an armored vehicle based on local criminal activity alone. In order to persuade the city council this vehicle was a necessity, it had to conjure up an existential threat composed of anti-government activists.
In its application for the DHS grant to purchase the $258,000 vehicle, Police Chief John Duval listed the following potential threats to the safety of Concord, NH:
Groups such as the Sovereign Citizens, Free Staters and Occupy New Hampshire are active and present daily challenges…More non-specifically, he added that various "anti-government clusters" also "challenged" the police on a "daily" basis.
When the news leaked out that the Concord PD was seeking an armored dissent-suppression vehicle, the response from the public was overwhelmingly negative. Activists collected 1,500 signatures against the PD's desired vehicle and presented that to the city council. This led to open public meetings in which many people spoke out against the militarization of their local police force, including a very strong speech from a former Marine Corps officer.
In the end, nothing the public had to say mattered. The city council approved the acquisition with an 11-4 vote. Here's how they justified the armored vehicle's existence in a town of 42,000.
[Liz] 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.”(Unless the Concord PD collates stats separately for the "northern" part of Concord, there were zero recorded murders in Concord in 2013 [and zero in 2012 as well] and only 20 robberies, which puts "recent" criminal activity at the same level it's been at for the last half-decade.)
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.
Others stated vagaries such as recent school shootings and one council member expressed the sort of faith usually reserved for evangelical services.
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.The Concord City Council apparently felt that "listening" to their constituents meant just literally listening to them. And then thanking them for their input, patting them on the heads and sending them on their way.
Fortunately, a legislator is looking to use the system to fix the system. If Concord's city council is indicative of the mentality surrounding the acquisition of military technology for local PDs, then those opposed to this sort of thing are screwed. The best defense this group could come up with was conjuring up school shootings and citing their lack of awareness in regards to the local crime rate. Hopefully, Hoell's bill will push back against the US government's tireless efforts to turn our local police departments into ad hoc military bases, especially when the justifications portray anti-government sentiments as a threat worthy of a military-grade response.