As city officials move forward with plans for an armored police vehicle, the vehicle’s earliest supporter is now backing away.
Congressmember Sam Farr signed a letter in 2013, as reported by GT last December, supporting funds for an armored police vehicle—or a “Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) Incident Response Vehicle” for the Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD).
The department, he argued at the time, needed an armored vehicle to protect “critical infrastructure” against “potential terrorist attacks.” Farr listed UCSC, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Monterey Bay Sanctuary and Lockheed Martin as vulnerable sites.
Last week, Farr re-evaluated the city’s process in a new letter on March 10. He wrote that SCPD “failed to be transparent with the city council,” adding that the department “sat on executing the grant until the last moment, when it rushed to the city council for an approval.”
Last December, the city council voted to accept $251,000 in Department of Homeland Security grants. SCPD officers told council that afternoon that funding would be lost unless it was approved then and there.
The Santa Cruz City Council is preparing for a discussion on Tuesday, March 24 about grant procedures and the use of a BearCat armored personnel carrier that has already been purchased and ordered by the SCPD.
Mayor Don Lane tells GT that the Civic Auditorium will have a video screen for the anticipated overflow crowd. SCRAM (Santa Cruz Resistance Against Militarization), a coalition group asking city officials to “give back the BearCat,” have announced a 6 p.m. rally before the meeting.
Farr could not be reached for comment, but SCPD Lt. Bernie Escalante disagrees with him about the department’s transparency, saying police simply followed procedure. The project was not presented to the council until the SCPD had the memorandum of understanding from the Urban Areas Security Initiative, a DHS program, Escalante says, and the city attorney approved it.
Lane tells GT those protocols need revisiting.
“In retrospect, that procedure is not good enough,” Lane says. “That’s one of the things I’m hoping we’ll correct at our next council meeting. We’re ending up taking a lot more time on it now because we didn’t take the time then.” Lane hopes new grant procedures will be outlined during the council meeting Tuesday night.
Farr’s most recent letter noted that his initial support in 2013 came “not long after the tragic shooting of two local Santa Cruz police officers.” That was before “the events in Ferguson, Missouri of 2014 which made all of America rethink its policing policies,” he wrote.
Farr emphasized that he’s now working on a bill “that would end the free transfers of certain aggressive military equipment to local law enforcement in order to preserve the important distinction between our military and our police.”
Activist Steve Pleich and other SCRAM activists tag-team read Farr’s new letter aloud at the last City Council meeting, on March 10 as the audience applauded.
Farr added in his letter, “If the people of Santa Cruz want to get rid of the BearCat, they need to petition the city council … I urge you to make your opinion known when the City Council meets on March 24.”