In Keene, N.H., locals oppose military equipment for police

military equipment.

For instance in Fargo, a city of 100,000, local authorities have spent $8 million to equip police officers with military-style assault rifles, Kevlar helmets, and a $256,643 armored truck with a rotating turret.

“It’s foolish to not be cognizant of the threats out there, whether it’s New York, Los Angeles, or Fargo,” saidLt. Ross Renner, the head of Fargo’s regional SWAT Team, in an interview with the Daily Beast. “Our residents have the right to be protected. We don’t have everyday threats here when it comes to terrorism, but we are asked to be prepared.”

In defense of the armored vehicles, Jim Massery, Lenco’s government sales manager, criticized doubters who did not think small towns needed heavily armor trucks.

I don’t think there’s any place in the country where you can say, ‘That isn’t a likely terrorist target,’” Massery told the Huffington Post. “How would you know? We don’t know what the terrorists are thinking. No one predicted that terrorists would take over airplanes on September 11. If a group of terrorists decide to shoot up a shopping mall in a town like Keene, wouldn’t you rather be prepared?”

Bucking the trend of accepting federal funds to purchase military equipment, residents of Keene have taken a stand.

“This vehicle is continuing to fund the culture of war in this country, and Congress will continue to fuel the culture of war unless we do something,” Councilor Terry M. Clark, the father of Mike Clark and the only councilor to publicly oppose the Bearcat, said at the 9 February city council meeting, according to the Keene Sentinel.

“Do we want a militarized police force in Keene?” Clark asked. “We can take the lead and ask the council to rescind its decision, and have the courage to do what Congress does not.”

Massery dismissed claims that the Bearcat is an aggressive military vehicle, insisting that it is a vehicle meant to save lives and protect police officers.

When a Lenco Bearcat shows up at a crime scene where a suicidal killer is holding hostages, it doesn’t show up with a cannon. It shows up with a negotiator,” Massery said in an interview with the Huffington Post. “Our trucks save lives. They save police lives. And I can’t help but think that the people who are trying to stop this just don’t think police officers’ lives are worth saving.”

Meanwhile other councilors argued that since the vehicle would be paid for by federal grant money, it would be a mistake not to accept it. Following that logic, cities across the United States have fueled the military contracting boom that is driving the growth of homeland security spending.

The domestic homeland security market is expected to reach $19 million by 2014, with many defense contractors that once sold weapons to the Pentagon now supplying equipment to local law enforcement agencies.

According to Massery, there are Bearcats in 90 percent of the 100 largest American cities and it is only a matter of time before they begin appearing elsewhere.

With federal counterterrorism money continuing to pour into local communities, despite the current fiscal climate, lawmakers and residents across the country will have to grapple with the same issues as Keene and determine what kind of police force they want to have patrolling their streets.

Eugene K. Chow is the executive editor of the Homeland Security NewsWir