Originally Published: December 16, 2015 6:02 a.m.
PRESCOTT - An armored military vehicle that Prescott Police Chief Jerald Monahan says will provide officers an extra level of protection during SWAT events could be available for use in Prescott before the end of the year.
In a 6-1 vote Tuesday, Dec. 15, the Prescott City Council agreed to accept an International Navistar MaxxPro Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle that was available through the federal Law Enforcement Support Office of the Defense Logistics Agency (1033 program).
The City Council initially agreed to apply for the vehicle in a late-November vote - an action that elicited a debate about whether the acquisition of such a vehicle would lead to the "militarization" of the Prescott Police Department.
The same argument arose this week, with the news that the application had been approved, and the vehicle was now ready for the city's acceptance and acquisition.
Although the approval was on the City Council's consent agenda - a list of usually non-controversial items that the council approves in a single vote - Mayor Harry Oberg announced at the start of the meeting that the item would be removed from the consent agenda for further discussion, at the request of the council.
Councilwoman Jean Wilcox, who voted against the application in November, reiterated her concerns this week about acquiring a vehicle that she said would send the "wrong message about what our community is." She added: "I'm just concerned about what Prescott would become if we continue to have these military vehicles."
Rather, Wilcox suggested that the city should equip its officers with personal protective equipment, and train them in tactics and SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics Team) responses.
Monahan responded that the use of such military vehicles by civilian police forces had been reviewed recently at the federal level. Because of past misuse of such vehicles, he said, the Obama administration did a complete review.
"Some of these vehicles were pulled (from use by community police forces)," Monahan said. "But this vehicle was not pulled. The Obama administration clearly sees a use by civilian law enforcement for some pieces of military equipment."
He added that personal protective gear, such as bullet-proof vests, does not protect against the level of weaponry used in some SWAT events.
"An assault weapon will penetrate a personal protective vest," Monahan said, noting that the vests were designed for handguns, not assault weapons.
In the past, Monahan said, the Police Department has used "discretion in how we've used these vehicles."
Still, some members of the audience urged the city not to move ahead with the acquisition of the vehicle.
Ralph Hess, a retired Yavapai County Superior Court Judge, voiced concerns that the use of an armored vehicle can lead to "escalation of aggression" during a SWAT event. He added that the use of armored vehicles is "contrary to community based policing."
Wilcox ultimately was the only council member to vote against the acquisition of the vehicle.
After the meeting, Monahan said the vehicle is currently in Pinetop, and could be transported to Prescott before the end of December.
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