Originally Published: November 29, 2015 6 a.m.
PRESCOTT - Acquisition of a military armored tactical rescue vehicle led to a debate this week about the alleged "militarization" of the Prescott Police Department.
The Prescott City Council ultimately voted to apply to the Law Enforcement Support Office of the Defense Logistics Agency (federal 1033 program) for an International Navistar MaxxPro Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle for use by the Prescott Police Department's SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics Team).
Before the vote, however, Councilwoman Jean Wilcox and members of the audience expressed worries that the military vehicle would send the wrong message to the community about the police department.
"I have some concerns about acquiring a vehicle like this, because of what it says about our community," Wilcox said. "It sends a message that we're militarizing our police department."
Added Wilcox: "I don't want to see Prescott - everybody's hometown - become a war zone."
But police Lt. Jon Brambila told the council that the vehicle would be used only in cases where dangerous circumstances warranted its use.
"We are very mindful of what we use our SWAT team for," Brambila said.
He led off the discussion by pointing out that the city currently has two armored SWAT vehicles - neither of which is reliable. Both are military vehicles that were acquired through the federal 1033 program, Brambila added.
The frequency of use of the armored vehicles fluctuates widely, depending on the year, Brambila said, noting that it ranges from six to 15 times a year.
While emphasizing that "Community-based policing is our goal," Brambila said, "There are, unfortunately, situations (where the SWAT vehicles are needed)."
Several members of the audience voiced support for the police department's acquisition of such a vehicle, pointing out that armored vehicles can save the lives of officers and citizens. But others maintained that the public should have more of an opportunity to comment on the matter before the city application.
Councilman Chris Kuknyo voiced support for the application, agreeing with Brambila that the police department would use the vehicle only when warranted by the dangerous circumstances. "You're not going to take this out when you don't need it," Kuknyo said.
A city memo stated that the police department's SWAT team "responds to high risk situations where specialized equipment is required for the safety of the officers and citizens. In order for SWAT to effectively carry out its mission, certain equipment is necessary."
The vehicle for which the city is applying is currently located in Pinetop, and is available for immediate transfer through the 1033 Program State Coordinator, the memo added.
The council voted 6-1 to apply for the vehicle, with Wilcox voting against the motion.
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