It’s a rescue vehicle – Though City Manager Chris Kukulski and Chief Ron Price have not released the correspondence sent to area police departments in September of last year soliciting support for the BearCat, the section of the grant application where the City formally made their case is heavy on “attack” and “terrorism” and, when finally noted on page 10 (of 15), treats “rescue” like a footnote. The prevalent usage of rescue in the media now is lipstick on a warhorse, just 11th-hour spin, and the city manager’s unflagging repetition of it has become an insult to our intelligence. The BearCat has a turret and at least 10 different “gun ports.” This vehicle wasn’t designed for handing out medical supplies or basic human necessities; it was built for killing.
Informing public representatives “fell through the cracks” – Kukulski and Price could have contacted the Bozeman City Commission when they summoned law enforcement support for the vehicle last September, or when the grant award was signed by Kukulski last October, or when the police department sat down with the commission late last fall to discuss departmental needs, or when the Capital Improvement Plan was updated, or when the vehicle was delivered in May, or when the budget discussions were underway in June, or at any point this summer when the BearCat was stashed at the HRDC barn or the L&J. On Mondays four times a month, the city manager and often high-ranking members of the PD convene publicly with the commission. What the more generous members of our town have accepted as a “mistake” may have started that way, but over months and months of bypassed opportunities for transparency, this became the worst lie of all.
The fault is procedural – City Manager Kukulski’s resolution this week that all grants over a value of $20,000 need to be reported does nothing to redress his own actions regarding the BearCat. Meanwhile, a member of the city commission has spoken his preferences for a cadre of new parameters for the BearCat’s usage. But a new page in the book makes little difference when our own city manager and police chief have already demonstrated, unmistakably, that they can and will drive their own agenda right over the city’s charter, the public right to know, and the importance of open discourse. The shortfall cannot be corrected with a new organizational procedure, because the shortfall is a matter of personal integrity.
It’ll save us from Columbine – This is not true. Law enforcement tactics changed drastically following that tragedy in Colorado. In its wake, officers are now instructed that during active-shooter scenarios they must “rush toward gunfire and step over bodies and bleeding victims, if necessary, to stop the gunman.” During the 45 minutes that officers in Littleton waited that day for the special response team to assemble, the gunmen shot 10 of the 13 people who were killed.
It’ll help protect Meagher County and Yellowstone – These areas have been described as within the long reach of local police, but inter-county, inter-state law enforcement is simply too serious a decision to be left in the hands of an unelected, middle-grade officer at the BPD. Remember, one such officer was in command when violent-felon Kevin Briggs walked out of the L&J—in shackles—on a bright morning this past February. State law enforcement and duties suited for Montana’s National Guard should be left to those authorities, trained personnel, and the governor's office.
It’ll help mitigate civil disturbances -- Sorry, but the community of Bozeman has done a commendable job of dealing with the arrival of the Westboro Baptist Church (ice cream social), bigotry (our NDO followed a vigorous public debate), racism (bye-bye McGuire), and militias (Who—the bearded guy on Main Street with the steel guitar?). Worse yet, the inclusion of “environmentalists” alongside “outlaw motorcycle gangs” and “racial hate groups” has disturbed thousands of people in this valley who value highly—or work professionally in support of—the importance of a healthy environment to our community well-being.
It’ll defend us from the militia – Let’s not forget that the militarized response and siege in Waco left 80 people dead. Locally, the worst standoff with authorities in Montana history—Jordan, 1996—was resolved “without bloodshed” when former Lieutenant Governor Karl Ohs rode into the Freeman holdout, unarmed, and on horseback. The federal agents in northeastern Montana also helped navigate a peaceful solution, and it was by clearly avoiding the military-style tactics that Bozeman’s new BearCat embodies. The bloody debacle late this summer in Ferguson, Missouri, only reiterates the point that a militarized police force makes bad situations worse.
It’s free – The Department of Homeland Security—the federal agency that funded the BearCat grant—has reportedly spent half a billion dollars on the militarization of America’s police forces in the last year alone. We the people, and yes even you, Commissioner Mehl, are paying for this federal pork that is eagerly turning Main Street America into Red Square on parade day.
The police need it -- Chief Price is listed as the lead presenter at Monday night’s commission meeting (October 6th, 6 p.m., City Hall), and he will doubtlessly note then the other departments in the area that have supported the City’s need for the BearCat. But never in the last decade has any member of the Bozeman Police Department or Gallatin County Sheriff's Department brought this “need” to the attention of the City Commission. Never once was an armored vehicle even mentioned.
MSU supports it -- The flag of MSU support has been waved repeatedly, but the president of the university, Dr. Waded Cruzado, has never made any public comment in favor of this armored vehicle, and the letter of support from MSU Police was not signed by Chief Putzke. In fact, the signor of that letter is no longer a policeman.
The police will only use it when necessary -- With specific regard to the handling of the BearCat, we the people have been given no sufficient reason to accept this offering from the City and BPD. Why? Chief Price and Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin were for months deceitful not just in the vehicle’s acquisition, but in its whereabouts, while several unofficial reports say that staff at the Law & Justice Center were told to keep the BearCat secret from the public.
Ad hoc-cracy is no substitute for democracy -- We simply can’t have a democratic discussion with the BearCat remaining in our town after the public has been so egregiously walked upon in its acquisition. The two arguments—the assault on the public process and the department’s need for it—cannot be extracted from one another, and thus, a mutually honorable discourse is not possible until after the BearCat is removed. City commissioners must now fiercely defend the public role in local government if they hope to retain the community’s respect for due process. Because if they’re just to be a rubber stamp for City Hall, why do we even have a commission?
Author's note: Again I ask members of our community to attend the October 6th City Commission meeting, where our elected representatives in local government will decide whether or not to ratify the purchase agreement for this armored vehicle. I hope to see all of you, making your voices heard, Monday night at 6 p.m. in City Hall.