Monday, March 23, 2015

Santa Cruz City Council to Revisit Issues Surrounding BearCat Purchase

On Tuesday night, the Santa Cruz City Council will revisit issues surrounding the council's decision in December to approve the police purchase of a $250,000 Lenco BearCat (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck) with Department of Homeland Security grant funds. The BearCat is on the council's March 24 agenda and will be addressed at 7pm. The agenda report for the meeting states that the vehicle's use policy will be discussed, as well as a proposal to clarify the process of submitting grant applications to the city council. Overflow seating for the meeting will be available at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium.

At City Hall on March 10, Joy Hinz holds an issue of the Scotts Valley Times with SVPD's armored vehicle on its cover, and the headline "Bargain for SWAT team 'Tank'."

Since December, community members have rallied to protest the BearCat purchase at City Hall before every city council meeting, and the group SCRAM! (Santa Cruz Resistance Against Militarization!) was formed. After each rally, the group enters council chambers together with protest signs, and individuals speak to the council about the BearCat during the open oral communications period. 

Santa Cruz police first described the type of vehicle they wanted to purchase as an "emergency rescue vehicle" at the city council meeting on December 9, but they did not list any of the specific models they were considering, and they did not list any of the nearby police agencies who already possessed similar vehicles.

Police claimed the nearest armored vehicle would take 3-4 hours to deploy in an emergency and was located in Santa Clara County, but activists later found out that the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department owns two armored vehicles and the Scotts Valley Police Department owns one.

The initial agenda report proposing the BearCat purchase was prepared by Deputy Chief of Police Steve Clark and approved by Chief of Police Kevin Vogel, who outlined its use as follows: "It is intended for use in emergency events including, but not limited to life-threatening public safety events, natural disasters, mass casualty incidents, high-risk medical emergencies."

After pressuring the police and the city for more answers, it was found out that the vehicle would also be used to serve search warrants, which to activists is not considered an "emergency response" use. This revived a decades old debate regarding the militarization of police and the necessity of SWAT teams in Santa Cruz.

Community members also believe that the BearCat was placed on the council's consent agenda with little notice on December 9 in an attempt to sneak the purchase past the public. The consent agenda is generally reserved for items on the council's agenda that are not considered controversial.

On Tuesday night, the city council will consider a new proposal that will require council authorization for the submission of grant applications for awards exceeding $100,000 in value.

"Whenever possible, Council approval of a grant application for significant projects, programs or equipment should precede any request to other governmental bodies for letters in support of the application, regardless of grant value," the meeting's agenda report states.

Members organizing with SCRAM! continue to outline their demands as follows:

1) to bring the BearCat back onto the SC City Council agenda for a full public hearing and to rescind the approval

2) to establish a long term policy for grant applications and acceptance in the City that ensures timeliness, transparency, full public disclosure and input

3) to help develop and implement policies that prevent military equipment from flowing into law enforcement agencies throughout Santa Cruz County

Santa Cruz City Hall.

Raging Grannies perform.

Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs.

Keith McHenry of Food Not Bombs.

Abbi Samuels of SCRAM! speaks.

Ron Pomerantz of SRAM! speaks.

Steve Pleich of SCRAM! speaks to the council during the oral communications period.

Council chambers.

Still speaking to the council as he walks out.

Raven Davis of Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom (HUFF)

Sherry Conable of SCRAM!

City Hall was decorated with protest signs.

SCPD removing signs on the request of city staff.

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