By Steven Tavares.
Despite concerns of many public speakers, the San Leandro City Council voted Monday night to accept a state homeland security grant for the purchase of a controversial armored personnel carrier.
The vehicle, touted as the only armored vehicle in the region dedicated exclusively for medical emergencies, will not be deployed during demonstrations, said police.
The vote was 6-1. Councilmember Ursula Reed voted no.
The tenor of opposition was similar to a public meeting held Jan. 8 when members of the community questioned the need to militarize the police department with the type of armored vehicles used last year to quell protesters in Ferguson, Mo.
Others said the muscular, black vehicles fortified with armor instill fear in the public more than they do to protect them. “I’m against the purchasing of this tank. It scares me,” said one of a number of high school students who spoke at Monday’s meeting.
Th heads of police unions in San Leandro and Oakland registered support for the armored vehicle, as did a representative from the Alameda County Fire Department. In addition, to the San Leandro Police Department, the Fremont Police and Fire Departments, along with Alameda County Fire were joint applicants for the $200,000 state grant.
As part of the council’s decision, $50,000 in proceeds from the city’s asset forfeiture fund will be used for the armored vehicle. Fremont is set to pitch in another $50,000, upon approval from their city council.
“We are here to work with our community, not to intimidate them,” said Capt. Ed Tracey.
Most agencies in the area do not have similar rescue policies to San Leandro, said Tracey. “It shows our intent and willingness to listen to this community and what is important to them.”
Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli added other cities borrowing San Leandro’s armored vehicle, known as a LENCO Bearcat MedEVac, will have to rely on their own policies. Every use of the vehicle will be logged and presented to the council, at minimum, every six months, said Spagnoli.
A majority of the council though said Monday night that additions made to the police department’s rescue policy prohibiting the vehicle’s use during demonstrations made the difference.
Councilmember Jim Prola said he was pleased with the policy changes made by the department. He added he would bring back the policy before the council if police are not following protocols. “It’s my responsibility to save lives and there is no doubt in my mind that this vehicle will save lives,” said Prola. “I see no harm. I trust our police officers,”
Councilmember Corina Lopez said she understood public consensus involved fears the vehicle would be used during protests. She, too, describe comfort with the new rescue policy.
Sentiment among council members also revolved around safety of police officers and residents. “I don’t want my police in harm’s way when they’re protecting me,” said Mayor Pauline Cutter. “My job is to make decision based on reality, not perception.”
Councilmember Reed, who is black, said her decision to vote against accepting the state grant was inspired by the number of recent events and protests triggered around the nation by police brutality.
She recounted upon election to the City Council in 2008 being a passenger in a car she said was pulled over by San Leandro Police because of racial profiling. She also expressed constant fear that her teenage son will be a victim of abuse by police because of the color of his skin.
Just before registering the lone no vote, Reed said, “The timing of this vehicle acquisition couldn’t have been worse.”
San Leandro Police will not have the MedEvac at their disposal just yet, said Spagnoli. It will take about a year for the vehicle to be manufactured and delivered to the city.