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New London acquires war-ready armored vehicle

Do New London police need a six-wheel, 40,000-pound armored vehicle, with a shielded gun turret and enough heft to keep rolling even when struck by a land mine?

The short answer from Police Chief Peter Reichard is yes, although he concedes the land mine resistance is not really necessary. And he notes there is no weapon in the turret.

But, then again, the chief suggests, this beast came loaded, military surplus, with an original sticker price of more than $700,000. And it was free for the city's taking.

I'm going to refrain here from an opinion about whether New London police, a civilian law-enforcement agency, should deploy a military vehicle made for war. But I do wonder about the effect it may have on the notion of community policing.

The people of New London should certainly have a conversation about it. New London, which got its new war machine from the Marine Corps, is not the first Connecticut department to acquire military surplus vehicles. Police as near as Willimantic got a smaller version a few years ago.

But the use of the military vehicles has ignited a lot of controversy around the country when they have been introduced to police departments, and, in at least once instance, was sent back.

I presume there has been no community dialogue about it in New London, since the police chief told me the mayor only learned about it as the vehicle was on the way here last week from a military base in North Carolina, carried on a trailer dispatched with one city police officer and one public works employee.

The mayor evidently sent the police chief to the public works garage on an explanation tour Monday morning, after I turned up there to see the beast. The mayor was called when I showed up at the garage.

Reichard says the vehicle can be used by both city police and other departments in the region and provides an armored vehicle in cases of active shooters.

The police chief said that a simpler non-military armored vehicle might suit the city's needs better but would be expensive. He said this one, a Cougar model, would only be used in limited emergency situations where armored protection for police or even civilians could be necessary.

He added city police don't even have adequate helmets or shields for riot protection.

It's hard to argue against providing police the protection they say they need, though maybe non-military grade equipment should be offered, whatever that may cost.

The cost of the Cougar, which has been named Rescue One by city police, so far has been limited to the expense of sending two employees to North Carolina to fetch it. City workers have also been painting the Marine Corps markings off the doors.

It has been totally reconditioned, the chief said. I guess that's like certified pre-owned by Mercedes Benz.

No one knows how to drive it, so there must be training. Reichard said they may be able to obtain that from local military installations.

The cost of it may or may not rise to the level of required approval of the City Council. But councilors should be consulted about the use of a military-grade war machine by their police department.

The mayor should confer with the City Council, even after the fact, and hear their thoughts about New London's new armored police beast, Rescue One.

This is the opinion of David Collins

d.collins@theday.com

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