City Approves Funding For Armored Vehicle

Council Members Say MRAP Will Help Cops

Posted: August 27, 2014

HARRISONBURG — Despite reservations from some members of the community, City Council approved $30,000 in funding to outfit an armored personnel carrier the Harrisonburg Police Department obtained from the U.S. Department of Defense.

It was one of several issues City Council met to consider in its chambers Tuesday night.

Four months ago, HPD acquired a mine-resistant ambush protected, or MRAP, vehicle through the 1033 program that transfers surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies throughout the country.

The program has attracted criticism in recent weeks with the claim that it has caused the militarization of civilian police forces, highlighted by local police response to protests following the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9.

During the public comment session of Tuesday’s meeting, city resident Matthew Wade said he wanted police to be protected, but he was concerned that the former military vehicle would be excessive for this area.

“[It] creates an atmosphere of fear,” he said.

He called on the council to see if the vehicle could be returned to the federal government or sold to another party.

If those options weren’t available, he pleaded that the police department use the equipment wisely.

Councilman Kai Degner said that he empathized with concerns about the militarization of police, but he believed the MRAP would only be used in a defensive manner.

Offensive weapons have already been removed from the vehicle.

The extra funding — which will come from the state’s asset seizures budget — would be used to further demilitarize the vehicle.

Plans include a different paint scheme, the addition of an articulating arm that could be used to breach barricades and also deliver items such as food or a telephone into a structure, emergency lights and surveillance systems.

Councilman Charlie Chenault also spoke up in defense of the police officers that would be using the equipment.

“It’s not the vehicle that is the ultimate issue. It’s the quality and professionalism of the folks who will be using it,” he said.

Remarking that he could not recall a single city police officer or firefighter having lost their lives since he’s served on council, Chenault said he wants to ensure that first responders have the best equipment available for their safety.

“[The city] should try to use this in the best way possible, and that’s hopefully not to have to use it at all,” he said before the vote.

The funding was approved unanimously.

Council also voted to change city’s job application forms by removing a question inquiring about an applicant’s previous convictions, criminal and otherwise.

The measure had been brought to council’s attention as part of a grassroots movement to “Ban the Box” — referring to the both the question and the box on the form where applicants must provide details about prior convictions — led by Karen Thomas, president of the Northeast Neighborhood Association.

Councilman Abe Shearer and Chenault complimented the efforts of residents who brought the issue before the city.

Councilman Richard Baugh eagerly pledged his support, saying that it was important for the city to recognize that people shouldn’t continually be punished for earlier mistakes.

Council unanimously approved the removal of the question from city application forms. The vote was met with applause from those in attendance.

Contact Bryan Gilkerson at 574-6267 or bgilkerson@dnronline.com



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