A $275,000 Bearcat armored vehicle is being sought by the police department of Berlin, which, with about 10,000 residents, is the only city in the North Country...
The idea is not just to protect police officers, but to provide a way to rescue civilians, Chief Peter Morency told the city council Monday evening.
“We really don’t have anything to protect other people if we need to evacuate people from a neighborhood.”
The nine-ton Bearcat – which can carry 10 people - is not military surplus. Made by a Massachusetts firm – Lenco - it’s advertised as being suitable for rescues as well as SWAT-team assaults.
A resolution before the council to accept the federal grant cited the need to be prepared in case of domestic or international terrorism.
Noting the proximity to the Canadian border it also says “previous attacks on the homeland have come through the Canadian border.”
That may be a reference to 9-11 although the 9-11 Commission concluded the hijackers did not sneak across the Canadian border.
Berlin police couldn’t immediately explain that statement but said terrorist attacks across the border are always a possibility and domestic terrorism - such as school shootings - are a major concern.
Morency said the Bearcat could be used throughout the North Country.
Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier favors idea.
“I’m going to support it because in the world we live today I want to protect the citizenry and also the officers responding to a dire situation.”
But Council member Paula Benski objected, saying just because federal funds are available it doesn’t mean they should be used.
“I see this as a solution in search of a problem.”
There are seven armored vehicles around the state purchased with federal homeland security funds, according to Department of Safety. They are in Laconia; Concord; Keene; Manchester; Derry, Portsmouth and with the state police.
The request in Berlin comes amid an increasing nationwide debate and in some cases alarm over what some see as the "militarization" of the police.
Advocates, however, say such equipment is necessary to protect police from high-powered weapons and possible terrorist attacks.
The city council will hold a public hearing on the Bearcat January 5th.