This photo shows a Lenco Armored Vehicles BearCat G3. Juneau Police Department is planning to acquire one of the vehicles. (Courtesy Photo / Lenco)

Police plans to buy armored vehicle surprise some city leaders

Concerns raised about “militarizing our police force.”

The Juneau Police Department is planning to get a “tank.”

Officially it’s an “armored security vehicle” built to carry people rather than fire projectiles. But the simpler militaristic “T” word was how surprised members of the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly mostly referred to it Monday night after city employees were heard talking about the planned acquisition earlier during the day.

Assembly member Carole Triem raised the issue during the final minutes of the three-hour meeting, noting the police department plans to purchase the so-called tank with a grant and objecting to their ability to do so without approval by the Assembly.

“There’s a policy question here about militarizing our police force and I don’t agree with that,” she said. “I think we’ve heard from the community that they really desire transparency when it comes to operations.”

The vehicle in question is a Lenco Armored Vehicles BearCat G3 expected to cost slightly more than $300,000 when built-to-order with the police department’s specifications, Lt. Krag Campbell said Tuesday. The company describes itself as “the nation’s leading manufacturer of tactical armored response and rescue vehicles for law enforcement, military and fire rescue agencies worldwide,” but Campbell said the vehicle sought by the department is “not a military vehicle.”

“Generally it’s for our emergency response teams and our fire department,” he said. “It’s sort of a multi-use vehicle for different departments.”

Campbell said the purchase is still pending, although the grant providing most of the funding has been approved, and the department will likely get the vehicle sometime next year if all goes well.

Among its potential uses are high-risk situations involving people with weapons since the vehicle’s armor can stop high-caliber fire that the department’s existing ballistic armor can’t, Campbell said. He noted Juneau also doesn’t have the ability to go to other communities for resources if they’re quickly needed.

“As technology has advanced throughout the world and these things become more readily available it’s really just something you can protect your officers with,” he said.

The response of Juneau police to threats of deadly violence became a high-profile controversy in December of 2019 when an officer fatally shot a man swinging a chain, the first officer-involved fatality since 2007. Campbell said while such incidents are always a consideration when evaluating equipment acquisitions, the department has been considering getting such a vehicle for at least a decade.

The BearCat G3’s specifications sheet states the all-steel armored vehicle accommodates up to 12 fully-equipped officers, has “high ballistic protection,” and the engine/tires/chassis are designed for rugged rural terrain where “standard armored SWAT vehicles would experience challenges.”

The G3 has been purchased by police departments across the country for purported reasons ranging from natural disasters to conflicts involving “extremists,” frequently causing debates about the “militarization” raised by Triem.

Concerns about transparency were also brought up by Assembly member Alicia Hughes-Skandijs, who noted police response to protests and other upheaval has been a foremost controversy nationwide the past few years, but one largely avoided in Juneau because the relationship between police and policymakers has been open.

“I think one thing in our meeting with the leaders of our police department was that we were happy to have a much better relationship with our police department than other communities do,” she said.

Campbell said he thought Assembly members were aware of the planned purchase and was working Tuesday to quickly get details of the planned purchase to members — who definitely are planning to discuss it more in-depth.

“I have about 200 questions about this tank,” Assembly member Wade Bryson said. “The moment the public hears about a tank we’re going to get questions.”

Mayor Beth Weldon cut off discussion due to the lateness of the meeting, which was dominated by budget-related items, but emphasized it will be brought up again to the Committee of the Whole soon.

“We would appreciate a picture of this in the meantime,” she said.

Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com.

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