Police in a Bay Area town will soon be receiving an armored rescue vehicle amid opposition from protesters who fear cops will misuse the gear.
On Monday night, the San Leandro City Council voted 6-1 in favor of purchasing a Bearcat Medevac, an armored vehicle designed for SWAT and Tactical EMS teams.
The city bought the vehicle with the help of a $200,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security, to which demonstrators gathered outside of council chambers chanted, “Thanks, but no tanks.”
Police swear they’ll only use their new truck to shuttle medics in and out of dangerous areas.
“What this armored vehicle allows us to do is transport medical personnel in it , have them protected, have law enforcement extract them, get them into that immediate care much quicker,” San Leandro Police Lieutenant Robert McManus told NBC Bay Area.
But with the relationship between police and the public still tense, demonstrators fear there may come a time when the vehicle’s intended use is disregarded entirely.
“This is such a big step in the wrong direction for making communities safer [or] improving relations between police and the community,” one protester told the NBC affiliate.
“The police department here has constantly referred to it as an armored ambulance, but this ambulance comes with 11 gun ports,” described another man. “It comes with a roof hatch with a rotating gun turret and it comes with a battering ram that can deploy incapacitating gas. That’s not an ambulance.”
The militarization of local law enforcement was brought to light last year after clashes in Ferguson, Missouri, led police to use armored vehicles, rubber bullets, tear gas, rifles and more against journalists and mostly non-violent demonstrators.
“What do you need an ambulance for… in a tank?” asked another concerned resident. “Are we expecting to go to war? It just makes me uneasy thinking that we’re gonna have wars in our streets.”
Late last year, a Spokane Valley sheriff’s deputy sparked backlash with comments that his department had acquired an armored vehicle in order to take on “Constitutionalists” who stockpile weapons and ammo, leading Spokane residents to rally in support of the Second Amendment in front of the Sheriff’s office.
While the Obama administration is currently reviewing the Pentagon program by which most police units are receiving surplus military equipment, some states are looking at proactive measures to preempt the burgeoning police state.
A bill introduced in the Montana state legislature last month, for instance, would prohibit the possession of military vehicles by state and local law enforcement.