BearCat

Keene's Lenco BearCat has seen little use since being delivered to the city, according to a report from Police Chief Kenneth Meola. 

The Keene Police Department had its armored vehicle on standby during the 2013 Pumpkin Festival, but officers did not consider deploying it during a rowdy party on Winchester Court, the police chief says.

Keene Police Chief Kenneth J. Meola also confirmed the department employed officers from other towns or agencies who were stationed on downtown rooftops during the festival.

Meola gave a report on the armored vehicle, a Lenco BearCat, to the Keene City Council’s finance, organization and personnel committee last week, detailing the vehicle’s use over the past six months.

In that report, Meola said the vehicle was logged out 13 times between June 17 and Dec. 31, for purposes including an open house in Rindge and several training exercises.

The vehicle was also used to assist Hinsdale police during in incident involving a suspect who barricaded himself in his house, according to the report.

“It was a serious incident,” said Hinsdale Police Chief Todd Faulkner. “It was due to a behavioral emergency, and we requested their response due to information we had about potential volatility going on inside the home. The 911 call was very clear that there was a danger, and we responded accordingly to that, that there were (firearms) in the home.”

Faulkner said the incident, which occurred Nov. 3, was resolved peacefully, and no arrests were made.

The BearCat was also on standby at a location police declined to disclose during the Pumpkin Festival in October, Meola said.

During the festival, a party on Winchester Court quickly escalated into a gathering of hundreds, with some incidents of violence unfolding as seen in a video posted to YouTube, in which beer bottles and a tire were hurled into a crowd.

Despite the tense situation there, Meola said deploying the BearCat wasn’t considered.

Police also employed officers from out-of-town agencies that day, including some who positioned themselves on downtown rooftops.

One downtown property owner said she had no problem allowing them access.

“I gave them permission,” said Dorrie Faulkner-O’Meara, who owns the building housing Pedraza’s Mexican Restaurant and The Pour House, among other businesses, referring to officers seeking access to her rooftops. “I certainly didn’t mind if it was going to keep us safe.”

Meola said putting officers on rooftops was something police have done at past festivals, “but not with the same consistency that we did it this time.”

Several videos posted on YouTube show men in plain clothes on tops of buildings surveying the crowd with binoculars.

Meola said the Boston Marathon bombings last April didn’t have any bearing on the decision.

“Just very simply because of the magnitude of the event, and size of the crowds,” he said as to why more officers were used this year. “To have extra sets of eyes looking for any potential problems, and to be able to monitor the crowds, and be proactive to any situations that looked like they might become problematic.

“Obviously, this event has grown, and the crowds have grown, and certainly we prepare ourselves to monitor the event and the safety of those who attend.”

Meola wouldn’t say where the officers were from.

Multiple agencies were used, but the only one that billed the city for its services was the Nashua Police Department, for the use of three of its officers, City Manager John MacLean said.

That bill was for $1,051, he said, although it wasn’t clear to MacLean or City Finance Director Elizabeth A. Fox whether that cost was picked up by the city or by Let It Shine, the organization that produces the festival and typically picks up the security tab.

MacLean said he did not know what the Nashua officers’ assignments were.

Nashua police could not be reached for comment.

A controversial vote; a little-used tool

In his report to the finance committee, Meola said the BearCat was also used for several training exercises. During the six-month period, expense related to the BearCat was limited to fuel costs, totaling $183.94, he said.

In December 2011, the council voted 13-1 in favor of accepting a $285,933 grant from the Department of Homeland Security to acquire the armored vehicle, which comes equipped with thermal imaging, hazardous gas detection and off-road capabilities.

Following a wave of public opposition to the vehicle, the council held a public hearing in February 2012, where more than 100 residents turned out to protest its acquisition. The following month, Councilor Terry M. Clark made a motion to overturn the council’s previous vote to accept the grant, but it failed, 9-4.

In the application for the grant, Keene police officers said the vehicle would be valuable when responding to extreme weather events and for rescues; for a potential threat at the Pumpkin Festival, which is attended by thousands; and would prevent putting officers in immediate danger for calls involving suspects with weapons and suspicious packages.

Several police departments in the Monadnock Region signed a deal with Keene, agreeing to pay $100 annually toward a maintenance fund that also gives them the ability to request the vehicle in certain situations, such as the one in Hinsdale.

“I would say it’s invaluable,” Faulkner said of the BearCat. “Having the ability to call in the special team to deal with a multitude of situations we might not be able to handle ourselves, with specialized equipment and specialized training that we don’t have access to or funding for, is absolutely invaluable to my department.”

Kyle Jarvis can be reached at kjarvis@keenesentinel.com or 283-0755. Follow him on Twitter @KJarvisKS.