Ask yourself why this area needs 2 armored vehicles

Why, oh why, does Marietta need two armored vehicles? Just because one vehicle can be funded with a grant from the federal government doesn’t mean it is “free.” Purchases like these are examples of excessive pork spending. Really – would most citizens of Washington County say that two Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck (BearCats) are a necessary county priority in these days of highly restricted budgets?

Are Marietta and surrounding towns the kind of towns that want to have armored vehicles roaming about, for example, when VIP/dignitary or high profile prisoner protection details are needed? Or for “Show and Tell” in the middle of sternwheel festival … or crowd control when citizens are speaking their minds? Do we want to live in the kind of place where there are two armored personnel carriers parked outside of the sheriff’s office, or rusting away in an undisclosed location?

Think about it: since the Sept. 11 attacks, the war on terror has accelerated the trend toward militarization even in small towns and cities. Homeland Security hands out anti-terrorism grants to these cities and towns, many specifically to buy military-grade equipment. In December, the Center for Investigative Reporting reported that Homeland Security grants totaled $34 billion, and went to such unlikely terrorism targets as Fargo, N.D. and Fond du Lac, Wisc., where many citizens protested their purchase. The report noted that because of these grants, defense contractors that have long served the Pentagon exclusively have now increasingly sought to sell to police and sheriff’s departments, hoping to tap a “homeland security market” expected to reach $19 billion by 2014. Fargo Valley News Live reports that “… with these bullet proof doors and turret, the bear cat will protect. But in the past year alone, it’s spent a majority of the time here in a garage in North Fargo.” Indeed, police agencies actually tend to use their armored vehicles for more mundane police work, like serving drug warrants. Should this be Washington County’s priority? I think not.

When Keene, New Hampshire was considering purchasing a BearCat, City Council Member Terry Clark warned “This seems to be a Poster Child of Waste, and an agreement between the government and arms dealers, essentially.”

Sheriff Mincks states that maintenance costs will be minimal. That may be true initially, but costs rise as vehicles age, especially if they are not used much. And will he be able to purchase rare parts at reasonable prices? Arms dealers tend to make prices high.

Sheriff Larry Mincks cites officer safety, but let’s look at that reasoning a little closer. No one wants officers to be hurt, but isn’t an armored vehicle “overkill?” Aren’t officers heavily trained in self-defense? Aren’t their training and salaries a reflection of risk taken? Why does rural Washington County need two, let alone any armored vehicles when nearby Athens County has one that might be borrowed as mutual aid in a true emergency, such as school shootings? Can not the multitude of volunteer heavy-duty trucks be used for flood rescues? In response to public comment about a proposed armored vehicle, the city of Berkeley, Calif., police reflected: “This vehicle has limited use in policing. It is primarily used by SWAT teams for responses to critical incidents such as active shooters, hostage situations, barricaded subjects, terrorism events, situations in which individuals are armed and/or victims have been wounded.” Has Mincks provided us with numbers of such incidents during the past five years showing this is a need in Washington County?

This boondoggle is overkill and a waste of hard-earned tax-payer dollars. Jobs are being lost here, and more and more families are going hungry. Money for preventive mental health care and drug rehabilitation is hard to come by. Do we citizens truly know the difference between need and “nice to have?” Should not this money be spent on people – not machines, or “glamour toys” for boys?

Joan C. Hampton