Does Santa Cruz Need an Armored Rescue Vehicle?
I went to the Santa Cruz City Council last week expecting to hear about the “stay away” ordinance that may be adopted for city parks. As it would turn out, another issue proved to be so controversial that the council chambers were forced to close half way through the afternoon session due to citizen protest. What was the issue that temporarily halted the whirring efficiency of government you may ask? It was the purchasing of an armored rescue vehicle by the police and fire departments, which was perceived by many in the audience as a move toward greater police militarization at the local level.
Now in all honesty I don’t think the outpouring of frustration would have been so apparent had something like this been proposed a couple of years back, but given the quite recent acts of violence against unarmed civilians, and the perhaps overcharged police response to the subsequent protests, I can see how the purchase of one of these vehicles might make someone a little apprehensive. And certainly knowing of Santa Cruz’s storied legacy of protests and activism someone else probably should have foreseen the potential for this type of vehicle to raise some concern. But bemoan the process all you want, the police needed council’s immediate approval or else they would lose out on the federal grant money they had received to pay for it.
So just what did the police and fire departments get $250,000 of federal homeland security money for? Well, it’s called a BearCat. That’s right, a BearCat, a fully ballistics proof vehicle designed by Lenco, or at least that’s the type of vehicle that is likely to be purchased. What is it meant for? According to both departments they would like to have it for very specific types of rescue operations, some examples could include the aftermath of an earthquake, or in the instance of having to extract people from an area where there may be a live shooter (and yes it is quite sad when the latter is a legitimate concern, but such is the world we live in). Currently, should one of these vehicles be necessary, it needs to be brought in from Santa Clara, meaning that response times can vary significantly and will likely undercut the strategic importance of the vehicle anyway.
Though the concerns shared by the protesters are warranted to some extent, as vehicles of the same type have been used during recent protests in other parts of the country. Furthermore, the police detective who was present at meeting didn’t directly rule out this potential use, instead saying that the vehicle would “not be used offensively”, but that it could be used should things turn violent.
Council did try to work through a compromise, with Council member Posner proposing an amendment that they approve the purchase of the vehicle only if they pass a resolution saying that it wouldn’t be used during a protest (the amendment was also supported by Incoming Mayor Don Lane), but it failed on a 5-2 vote. I would like to point out that I believe the amendment would have faired better had it not been for some of the antics by certain public speakers, but the uncomfortable tension proved to much. The Council eventually voted to purchase the vehicle 6-1, with Posner dissenting not because he disagreed with buying the BearCat, but because he felt the process could have been handled better with more notice. It was at that moment that a large group of people began chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!”, over a cacophony of other screams and commentary, which eventually led to the police escorting everyone out and the meeting moving into closed session.
Looking back on the decision I am still torn as to what the right course of action would have been. Given the recent news and acts of police brutality, was this the right decision for our community? Was the “no-protest” amendment warranted? You tell me. I have created an initiative on Civinomics with a link back to the staff report where you can vote “yes” or “no” on whether the city should have purchased the BearCat. Also feel free to leave a comment as to why you voted a certain way, either on here or the initiative.