On Monday, September 9, 2013, the Concord, NH city council voted 11 to 4 to accept a Department of Homeland Security grant to furnish a new Lennco Bearcat armored assault vehicle. The Bearcat is intended to replace an older armored personnel carrier that was used to support Concord and the Central New Hampshire Special Operations Unit, which services 20 surrounding towns, the Merrimack County Sheriff, and Plymouth State University. Aside from the basic controversy of deploying weapons of war on city streets (hmmm…where have I heard that before?), in the grant application, Concord Police Chief John Duvall specifically cited the existence of Occupy New Hampshire and the Free State Project among his reasons for needing a shiny new APC . . .
Both of these organizations are committed to non-violence and in the case of the Free State Project, they don’t even do much in the way of public protesting. All that they want to do is encourage enough Libertarian-minded people to move to New Hampshire (counteracting the lefty Massachusetts exodus) so they can peacefully vote for a government that supports individual rights and respects individual liberties. But Duvall listed both of these organizations as examples of domestic terrorism. Duvall later revised his grant proposal after a predictable uproar ensued, but he’s shown his true colors. After the vote passed, he said:
“I don’t want to see equipment used that will oppresses individual rights in this country. But the stark reality is our law enforcement officers are asked at times to do things that are extraordinary and put their life in peril. It’s my responsibility to give them what is needed to perform their jobs,” he said. “If I never have to use this vehicle, I’ll be a happy person.”
Really? Why am I not buying this?
When tiny towns like Concord and Keene can get grants to purchase quarter million dollar urban assault vehicles something is very wrong with our country. First of all, while I might – might – be willing to give the benefit of the doubt to places like Chicago and L.A. which have to contend with serious gang violence, I just don’t see how little burgs like Concord need it. And God forbid there is any kind of student protest over at Plymouth State University. Things could get ugly over there.
Now let me take my tinfoil hat off for a moment. I will concede that once in a great while, there may be a situation where a barricaded suspect needs to be dealt with. Perhaps he has hostages, maybe he’s running a meth lab. He may have started shooting people from his house. All of these things have happened in the past and I can see the police needing a safe way to approach. In that kind of case, I think it is useful for these APCs to be employed. But, that is a very narrow circumstance.
Use of these vehicles should require authorization from very high up the food chain. Perhaps in a state the size of NH, all the way up to the governor. If the cops plan to roll in with an assault vehicle, they should get the permission of someone higher than the local sheriff. Requiring cops to jump the hurdle will help ensure that these things are used only in the direst emergencies rather than in a situation where some local yokel decides to roll an APC packed with amped up mall ninjas sporting automatic weapons because someone defaulted on their student loans.
The real question is now that the Concord police chief has thrown down the gauntlet and labeled certain groups domestic terrorists, what’s to stop some of their more extreme members of these groups from tooling up as defense against police over-reach? Perhaps the po-po will roll up on a house in their impenetrable recreational vehicle only to find that the occupants have gone out and purchased a brace of semi-auto .50s and gotten their hands on some AP rounds.
I don’t know about you, but the very idea of it happening in my neighborhood (or within a mile of it based on .50 cal ballistics) scares the hell out of me. The argument has always been that the police up-arm to achieve parity with the bad guys. Unfortunately, I think we are starting to see the opposite happen with otherwise ordinary law abiding citizens up arming to achieve parity with the cops. If you doubt that, just look at the surge of gun purchases over the past year.
This domestic arms race needs to stop. I’m just glad that my town police force is headed by a chief who believes in the old fashioned approach of community policing. People need to stop being afraid of their police and police need to stop being afraid of citizens. The old model of police and communities working together will still work. We just need more visionary heads of police organizations.