Over the last few weeks the Campbell has spent time reviewing the city’s five-year capital improvement plan, which included upgrades to parks, streets and the community center.
But, in the midst of a national reckoning over the militarization of police, one item has caught the eye of a group of residents: an armored vehicle.
The Lenco BearCat has been on the Campbell Police Department’s wish list ever since it returned a V150 armored rescue vehicle to the U.S. Department of Defense last year.
Campbell acquired the vehicle as a hand-me-down in 1998 through the Pentagon’s 1033 program, which since the early 1990s has re-gifted military equipment to local police agencies. While Campbell Police Chief Gary Berg argues that a BearCat is critical for SWAT operations, residents have concerns about its hefty cost and the militarization of a police department for a city with a population barely north of 40,000 people.
The police department originally planned on making the purchase in the upcoming fiscal year, but due to the city’s nearly $3 million deficit, Berg said they’ve decided to hold off until 2021-22. The city expects the BearCat to cost $250,200 and has budgeted $62,550 a year for a four-year period starting in 2021.
“This is a crucial piece of safety equipment,” Berg told the City Council at a recent meeting. “The willingness to push it off a year should not be interpreted as this not being needed in our police department. Right now we are relying on other agencies, their equipment to come in when we need help. We’re relying on their policies and procedures and employees who will be operating the rescue vehicle and there’s also issues revolving around communication and potential issues that that may cause.”
In the last 18 months, Berg said the department has needed an armored vehicle 11 times. One of those incidents included a 12-hour standoff with an armed man who had holed himself up at the Denny’s on Bascom Avenue, he said. At the time, the Campbell Police Department had to rely on two other local law enforcement agencies to provide an armored rescue vehicle.
But Berg’s answers haven’t been satisfactory for many community members, especially given the recent conversations around policing in America that were ignited by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop. This month, more than 700 people signed onto a change.org petition demanding that the city reject the purchase.
Campbell resident Stuart Ching, who also serves on the planning commission but spoke to San Jose Inside on his own behalf, said he hasn’t seen a “good rationale” for how purchasing the vehicle is the best way to make the city safe.
“It seems to be put onto the capital plan on the basis of the police chief that we need this armored truck,” he said. “What message is Campbell saying with going ahead in the moment and putting an armored truck in the plan? How are people going to think about this? How are minorities going to think about it?”
Sergio Lopez, a progressive Democrat running for the Campbell Council, says the city should be investing in the community—not military equipment. “The biggest thing I really believe that we have to use this moment to really invest holistically in public safety,” he told San Jose Inside. “This doesn’t accomplish that.”
Lopez also cited statistics pulled from the FBI’s Uniformed Crime Reporting program that shows Campbell’s most common criminal offense is property crime. In 2018, the city reported 1,379 property crime offenses. Larceny and theft accounted for the second most common crime with 976 offenses. Violent crime accounted for just 119 incidents.
Although Campbell still has another year to gather more community input, most of the council members have already voiced their support for purchasing the BearCat. Councilwoman Anne Bybee said she didn’t think residents understand the need for it. Her colleague, Paul Resnikoff, argued for the necessity f the vehicle because Campbell abuts one of the worst gang areas in the nation’s 10th largest city.
Mayor Susan Landry told San Jose Inside that she believes the BearCat became a big topic of discussion because “because of everything going on right now.”
“I would not say that our police department is militarized,” she said. “We do have a SWAT team. All the police officers are trained in de-escalation.”
Stanford law professor David Sklansky, the co-director of the university’s criminal justice center, told San Jose Inside that there’s been an increase over the last few decades of police department’s acquiring more military equipment.
“The problem with having military style equipment is it tends to get used and it gets used inappropriately,” he said. “The use of military style equipment sends a message to the officers and the community. It pushes against the idea of community policing.”
Sklansky added that it would be more appropriate for towns like Campbell to share this type of equipment with other agencies in the region.
Chief Berg argued that sharing can pose problems—especially in regards to response time. The police chief also said he believes the BearCat is useful for training exercises.
“I’m very proud of how innovative and progressive we’ve been,” he said. “If you go back historically and look at how our officers have been able to resolve our situation, we’ve been very successful because we’ve put a focus on training for officers.”