BANGOR, Maine — The Bangor Police Department will get an armored vehicle to keep its officers out of harm’s way when responding to particularly dangerous situations after the City Council unanimously approved the purchase during a meeting Monday night.
“There is a need for the vehicle. We do not live in a perfect society, unfortunately,” said Councilor Joe Baldacci. “You would have to judge how [Bangor police] would use this vehicle from how they have conducted themselves in the past.”
Members of the public and councilors spent nearly two hours Monday night debating the merits of the purchase. In the end, councilors decided it was something they would rather the department have and not need than need and not have.
The $208,772 vehicle, roughly the size of an ambulance, will be purchased from Lenco Inc. of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The money comes from savings the Police Department saw during the current fiscal year — the result of lower-than-expected fuel costs and health insurance premium payments.
The vehicle is a base model built specifically for police, and is not a military surplus vehicle, which some communities in southern Maine and across the nation have acquired for next to nothing through federal programs.
“That makes this no more militarized than a Brinks truck,” Councilor Gibran Graham said.
The proposal sparked a contentious debate in the community, with critics saying it smacked of police militarization or arguing that the money would be better spent elsewhere. Supporters said the vehicle is an unfortunate necessity to protect police officers involved in increasingly dangerous situations.
Hathaway and others have cited a pair of recent Bangor instances in which the vehicle may have helped.
In 2013, Bangor police were involved in a four-hour standoff on Park Street after a resident fired more than 70 shots inside his apartment and out the windows toward the street and through walls at officers. At times during that standoff, tactical team members firing tear gas into the windows were fully exposed in the street.
Last year, a six-hour standoff on Union Street ended peacefully, but police say it could have come to a resolution sooner had officers been able to get close to the building safely. Instead, they waited for the Maine State Police’s armored vehicle to drive up from Augusta. It can take more than two hours for state police to get that vehicle to Bangor to assist.
Hathaway stressed that the vehicle wouldn’t be used, displayed or driven around the community unless it was needed for a police response. There have been just two instances in the past five years when Bangor police have used the state police armored vehicle.
For councilors, the added safety for police officers outweighed concerns that a nonmilitary vehicle would contribute to the militarization of the city’s police force.
“Bangor is very safe, but I’m sure the other cities that have had mass shootings didn’t think it would happen there,” said Bangor resident Lori Libby.
Several residents attending Monday’s meeting expressed concerns about the cost of the vehicle and questioned why Bangor was footing the bill alone.
Hathaway said he would be in discussion with other law enforcement agencies to see whether they would be interested in reimbursing a portion of the vehicle’s costs in exchange for mutual aid agreements. Under the current plan, Bangor would have sole use of the vehicle and wouldn’t take it to other communities unless there were a vitally serious emergency, Hathaway said.
Also during Monday night’s meeting, the council gave the Police Department permission to collaborate with Penobscot Community Health Care to get naloxone hydrochloride, or nasal Narcan, into police vehicles.
Police officers often are first on scene when an overdose is reported, Hathaway said. If they’re able to administer the drug quickly, it can improve the overdose victim’s chances of recovery.
Ensuring Narcan is available to first responders was one of the recommendations from the community working group, which formed two years ago to come up with ways to combat growing drug abuse problems in the region.
Councilor Ben Sprague relayed the story of a neighbor, William Symonds, who walked across the street to help Sprague get his car unstuck from the mud. He called Symonds “one of the nicest young men you could possibly imagine.”
Last week, Symonds, 22, died from an apparent drug overdose, Sprague said.
“He was part of this community — he’s gone now,” Sprague said. He said anyone who doesn’t believe Narcan is useful or an addict’s life worth saving should “look into the eyes of a parent whose child has died of an overdose.”
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.