BRUNSWICK — Despite some combative remarks by members of the public during Monday’s Town Council meeting, the Police Department received approval to accept a surplus military vehicle from the Department of Defense.
The council voted 8-1 to accept a “Peacekeeper” personnel carrier donated through the DOD’s so-called 1033 program, which transfers military supplies to domestic law enforcement agencies.
Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman cast the vote in opposition, noting that the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office already has a Peacekeeper.
The lightly armored vehicles, built during the 1980s on modified pickup truck frames, were intended to carry a driver and three gunners in combat zones. Today, leftover Peacekeepers are used by police special-tactics teams throughout the country. Besides the sheriff’s office, six other Maine law enforcement agencies now own Peacekeepers or similar armored vehicles.
The Brunswick Police Department isn’t one of those agencies.
In the past nine years, the BPD has acquired more than $120,000 worth of equipment through the 1033 program, including laptop computers and 10 high-powered rifles.
Until January, those acquisitions were made without Town Council oversight. But the town adopted a new policy this year after The Forecaster reported on how much equipment local police departments have received through the Pentagon program.
The department has never before obtained a combat vehicle. In fact, police several years ago turned down an offer of a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, or MRAP, an 18-ton behemoth that is typically valued at more than $600,000.
Then, in early February, the department received an offer from the DOD to take a Peacekeeper off the hands of police in Bloomington, Minnesota, who are upgrading to a newer model.
The 1989 vehicle Brunswick is acquiring, with only 19,000 miles, is worth about $65,000.
Police Chief Richard Rizzo and Cmdr. Marc Hagan said the Peacekeeper will allow police to more closely and more safely approach dangerous crime scenes that are handled by the department’s Special Reaction Team.
“This is a much-needed tool for Brunswick officers and the safety of residents,” Police Chief Richard Rizzo told the council. “The vehicle is really about officer safety.”
But on Monday, the Peacekeeper led to little peace.
“Does anyone think we need such a vehicle in Brunswick?” asked Moody Road resident Karen Klatt, a former District 4 town councilor. “This is not L.A., California. … I’m sure the Police Department wants such a toy, but I don’t see how the need is justified.”
That remark prompted resident Jason Coombs to tell the council, “Any tool you can get to enhance (police officers’) jobs and make it so they can get home at night is not a toy.” Several audience members applauded.
Richard Fisco, of Lincoln Street, then said, “Any police officer who wants to get home no matter what shouldn’t be in uniform.”
Councilors also expressed mixed feelings about the BPD’s new wheels, and questioned Hagan about the cost of accepting it. He explained that it would require about $2,400 to ship the vehicle to Brunswick, and that the town would also be responsible for the cost of maintenance.
But since the Peacekeeper would technically be on loan from the DOD, there are few other expenses. And the town can return the vehicle if it proves to be “cost-prohibitive,” according to Hagan.
“Do we need this? My judgment says probably not,” Councilor Suzan Wilson said. “But the police don’t ask for a heck of a lot from us.”
Councilor Stephen Walker said his initial response was “no friggin’ way.” But after learning more about the vehicle, he said it was a “reasonable request.”
“This isn’t about militarization of our local Police Department,” he said. “It’s about giving them a shield.”
Councilor Kathy Wilson said, “My hope would be that (the police) never have to use it. But if they need it, or if we need to help other communities that are close by, well, for $2,400 and a couple oil changes … I think it’s well worth it.”
Councilor David Watson, a former Brunswick police officer, said he was voting yes because “this vehicle not only protects police officers, it protects citizens. We just had a bank robbery here a short time ago. Things are happening in Brunswick that never happened before.”