PORTSMOUTH- Last week’s Portsmouth City Council session found divergent voices in regards to the need for an armored vehicle to be used by the city’s police department.
1st Ward Councilman Sean Dunne has opposed the purchase of a Lenco Medcat as it reemerged last month, voting against during the City Manager’s session on April 26 and in first reading on May 10 after originally attempting to table the measure that evening.
“There is not one person that I’ve spoken to at Shawnee State University that thinks this is a good idea,” the sociology professor said, later clarifying that he was not delivering a direct message from SSU but rather relaying what administration, faculty, and staff that he has held conversations with have said.
SSU Vice President for Advancement and Enrollment Management and Secretary to the Board of Trustees Eric Braun also sent a message to Police Chief Debra Brewer.
“Any statements made by Councilman Dunne at city council meetings are made in his capacity as a private citizen or elected public official,” the message reads, shared by PPD on Facebook. “Shawnee State University does not hold a position on the issue of equipment purchases or acquisitions being contemplated by the City of Portsmouth or the Portsmouth Police Department.”
In the days since discussions surrounding the Medcat have proliferated throughout social media as the item awaits a second reading for the council’s next session on May 24.
In a statement released on Facebook on May 14, Portsmouth PD described the vehicle as one that serves multiple purposes with ability to respond to weather events and active shooters. With military-spec armor, the department says it also meets the mission of SWAT, Fire, EMS, private security and military personnel.
“The Medcat has been an invaluable tool for first responders to successfully rescue civilians in severe weather events such as hurricanes, floods, mudslides and it can even be equipped to fight fires,” the post reads, which had more than 75 shares as of Tuesday. “The Lenco Medcat saves lives.”
While it is the hope of the department that a vehicle of this capability would never need to be used, similar types have been on loan to PPD from the military. Previous administration had a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP, which the release says that they were never allowed to use.
Described as very heavy, the MRAP had to sit on concrete due to it sinking into the asphalt during the heat of summer and maintenance work was avoided. Prior to its February 2020 return, it was more than PPD ever needed.
However, PPD pointed to several instances where they believe the Medcat could have been used such as the Notre Dame School shooting and a dealing with an armed, barricaded subject in Pike County. In the Pike County instance, Portsmouth PD SWAT called the Chillicothe Police Department to use their model.
“When the subject saw the vehicle, he surrendered without incident. Just the mere presence of the vehicle convinced the subject to surrender,” the post claimed.
“For those of you who remember the Notre Dame school shooting, this would have been a tremendous asset for that situation,” the release reads. “I have had several parents of the students involved that day tell me this.”
After failing to pass last year, PPD and City Manager Sam Sutherland found unused and unobligated grant money this year to cover a portion of the $252,000 vehicle. Earlier figures indicated the vehicle would cost $265,000.
Sitting unused for eight to 12 years, a discovery of $80,680 was the result of the inquiry found in three separate police funds that must be used by the department. To meet the remaining $171,320, PPD said it is willing to purchase five cars instead of six for the next four years.
Still, many commenters viewed the proposal as wasteful spending and a move towards militarization rather than fixing any problems facing the city. Infrequent use, potential high maintenance costs, and a need for improved infrastructure were cited as reasons for their opposition.
“Literally the only thing I’ve ever seen people on Facebook agree on – Portsmouth does. not. need. this,” one commenter replied on Saturday. “If you need this to police an area as small as Portsmouth, you should invest that money in better training.”
“There are much better ways of improving the town of Portsmouth without giving the police a vehicle to live out their military fantasies,” reads another. “Shameful waste of money and an extremely tone deaf choice.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3101 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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