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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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