Community Responds to Claims Made About Armored Vehicle

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The Santa Cruz Police Department applied for a grant for a Lenco BearCat without informing the Santa Cruz City Council and community about the Scotts Valley Police Department’s armored vehicle (above). source: Scotts Valley Police Department
The Santa Cruz Police Department applied for a grant for a Lenco BearCat without informing the Santa Cruz City Council and community about the Scotts Valley Police Department’s armored vehicle (above). source: Scotts Valley Police Department

After accepting a grant to purchase a Lenco BearCat (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck) on Dec. 9, Santa Cruz City Council continues to face opposition from community members and organizations including Santa Cruz Resistance Against Militarization (SCRAM).

The justification for the acquisition of the BearCat — standing at 8 feet tall, 20 feet long, 8 feet wide and weighing 18,000 pounds — rested on claims that the closest and most efficient armored vehicle was in Santa Clara County, which proponents said would be too far away in case of an emergency. With this information in mind, City Council accepted the $251,293 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Outside the Jan. 27 City Council meeting, SCRAM held a conference where journalist and SCRAM member John Malkin claimed that the Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) applied for the grant while knowing the Scotts Valley Police Department (SVPD) had an armored vehicle 10 minutes away.

Lt. Bernie Escalante said the SCPD was aware of the SVPD vehicle, but for the SCPD, it wasn’t considered an option.

“It wasn’t my hope to conceal or fabricate a story,” Escalante said. “I don’t think it would be appropriate to discuss the operational capabilities of another agency’s utilities, but [its] vehicle’s capabilities don’t meet [the SCPD’s] needs, which is why we requested a grant from the city.”

Micah Posner, the only council member to oppose the grant proposal for the BearCat, said the information regarding the Scotts Valley armored vehicle makes the decision more complicated.

“I’m unhappy we didn’t have that information to begin with,” Posner said. “[Purchasing the BearCat] is something for the City Council to decide with full information.”

Posner said the City Council is fully capable of rescinding its decision on the grant, explaining that if the public is opposed to the BearCat’s purchase, it must talk to City Council and get the BearCat back on the agenda.

After the Jan. 27 City Council meeting, Mayor Don Lane investigated the public’s concerns and found the problem to be communication and interpretation. After researching the SVPD’s vehicle and discovering it was different from the BearCat, Lane still wished police had disclosed its existence.

Lane conceded that the police hadn’t intended to hide anything, but the consequence of the SCPD not considering the public’s reaction to this information has led to a significant loss of trust, which he felt was the biggest problem.

“There are little bits and pieces of information being presented and it sows a lot of misunderstanding — it’s a problem,” Lane said. “What needs to happen is for all information to be brought upfront, that can make a case, but does not cater to just one perspective.”