Juneau officials question police plan to buy armored vehicle

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Some officials in Juneau have raised concerns about militarization of the police force after learning of the local police department’s plans to buy an armored security vehicle that can seat 12 officers.

Some have referred to the vehicle as a tank and worry it could harm a transparent relationship between police and the community. Police counter that the vehicle is a way to help protect officers, especially when dealing with people firing weapons, the Juneau Empire reported.

“There’s a policy question here about militarizing our police force and I don’t agree with that,” City and Borough of Juneau Assembly member Carole Triem said. “I think we’ve heard from the community that they really desire transparency when it comes to operations.”

Triem raised the issue late at Monday’s assembly meeting, where she also objected to the police department’s ability to buy the vehicle with a grant that doesn’t require assembly approval.

The Lenco Armored Vehicle BearCat G3 will cost more than $300,000 when custom built to Juneau police department specifications, Lt. Krag Campbell said.

Campbell said that despite some in the community describing the vehicle as a “tank,” it’s not a military vehicle.

“Generally, it’s for our emergency response teams and our fire department,” he said. “It’s sort of a multi-use vehicle for different departments.”

Its potential uses include high-risk situations involving people with weapons since the vehicle’s armor can stop high-caliber fire that the department’s existing ballistic armor cannot, he said.

Juneau does not have the ability to go to other nearby communities for resources if they are needed quickly, Campbell said. The city is accessible by air or water.

“As technology has advanced throughout the world and these things become more readily available, it’s really just something you can protect your officers with,” he said.

He said while the purchase is pending, the department expects to take delivery sometime in 2023.

Assembly member Alicia Hughes-Skandijs said police response to protests has been a foremost controversy nationwide, but it has been largely avoided in Juneau because the relationship between police and policymakers has been open.

“I think one thing in our meeting with the leaders of our police department was that we were happy to have a much better relationship with our police department than other communities do,” she said.

“I have about 200 questions about this tank,” assembly member Wade Bryson said. “The moment the public hears about a tank, we’re going to get questions.”

Police believed the assembly members were aware of the planned purchase, and Campbell said he was working to get them more details. Mayor Beth Weldon said more discussion will be held on the planned purchase.