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March 01. 2012 9:42PM

Keene officials say they will buy armored vehicle

KEENE — The LENCO BearCat Special Missions armored vehicle is coming to Keene, city councilors told a gathering of citizens wearing “Thanks but No Tanks” T-shirts at Thursday night's meeting.

Councilors provoked an outcry in December when they accepted a $285,933 Homeland Security grant to buy the armored vehicle without a public hearing.

Residents rallied, calling the purchase a waste of federal tax dollars; some said it would militarize the city's police force.

“The bottom line is this is not about public safety,” Councilor Terry Clark said Thursday. “This vehicle is not going to save one life.”

Clark was the sole vote against accepting the grant in December, and it was at his request that a public hearing on the matter was held Feb. 9.

On Thursday, Clark moved to take a vote to rescind the acceptance of the grant. Four councilors voted for his motion to reconsider; nine voted against it.

Councilor Bettina Chadbourne agreed with Clark, and voted to reconsider.

“I feel it feeds fear,” she said of the BearCat. “I just don't think we have the level of crime as L.A., New York, or Miami.”

Councilor Janis Manwaring said as a therapist, she considers it a dangerous time. Many people are stressed out, out of work and homeless.

“I have a lot of people asking me why a middle-schooler in Walpole would take a gun to school and shoot it,” Janis said, referring to a student who shot himself in the head in the school cafeteria last month.

Councilor P. Dale Pregent said the vehicle would be valuable to the city.

“Yes, we are little Keene, New Hampshire, but we are not exempt from disasters,” he said.

After the vote, frustrated residents — many carrying signs protesting the BearCat's purchase — filed out of the room.


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