COLUMBIA — The Columbia City Council voted 6-1 to approve funding to purchase a new armored vehicle for the Columbia Police Department.
The council approved the use of about $227,000 in local revenue and police forfeiture funds to purchase the vehicle, a Lenco BearCat, at its Monday night meeting.
The Police Department has been using a 1982 Cadillac Gage Peacekeeper since 2001. The armored personnel carrier is 30 years old and has 27 documented mechanical or electrical failures that resulted in more than $35,000 in repair costs, according to a Police Department report to the council. It had been used by the Air Force for 19 years before moving to the Police Department.
The life expectancy of armored vehicles is 20 to 25 years, Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton said.
At the March 18 council meeting, the vote on whether to purchase the armored vehicle was tabled. The council said it wanted to collect more data on how and when the vehicle was used. A report with additional information was presented at Monday's meeting.
Council members expressed concern about its use in situations where there are large crowds, such as riots. Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp, who was the only council member to vote against funding an armored vehicle, said he did research and found that there are cases where an armored vehicle was dispatched to a "crowd situation."
"I am worried about those fringe situations where it (the armored vehicle) will be sent out, and someone will be run over by the vehicle," he said.
Trapp said he still didn't have enough information to approve funding the vehicle and wanted the vote to be tabled for a second time.
Trapp and other council members asked the Police Department to provide information about when the new vehicle is dispatched to make sure it is being used appropriately.
"We don't want it being used to go to McDonald's," First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt said.
Some members of Keep Columbia Free expressed their concern about how the vehicle will be used.
"This vehicle represents a 10,000 pound hammer," Jim Chappelow said. "We expect vigilance in the use of this vehicle."
Burton, who spoke at the meeting before the members voted, said the department would provide information about when the vehicle was deployed in its reports to the council.
Burton made it clear that the vehicle was necessary for the protection of police officers.
"Nothing we have can protect our officers from rifle rounds," he said.
He also assured the council members that the department will be vigilant in how the vehicle is used.
"It will not be used as an intimidation factor," he said.
In a report to the council, the Police Department indicated that the vehicle can be used in a number of different scenarios, including when armed suspects barricade themselves or for arrest warrants of potentially dangerous people, such as murder suspects.
The report said the current armed vehicle was last used in September 2012 after the Columbia SWAT Team was activated to respond to an incident reporting multiple shots being fired in a residential area.
Burton said the armored vehicle isn't deployed in every SWAT situation. The report said the vehicle has been deployed 18 times in the past five years, though the SWAT Team was activated 66 times during that same period.
"It (the armored vehicle) is primarily a hostage refuge vehicle and a police protection vehicle," he said. "It is left up to the SWAT commander to decide when to use it."
Burton said the department will look into establishing tighter guidelines for using the armored vehicle.
Dale Roberts, executive director for the Columbia Police Officers' Association, said he was concerned with establishing restrictive guidelines for using the armored vehicle.
"It's like surgery. It's hard to write guidelines for all circumstances," he said.
Council members also expressed concern about the use of $36,500 in police forfeiture funds to purchase the vehicle.
Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said she thinks the council needs to consider whether police forfeiture funds should be used by the Police Department to fund things such as armored vehicles.
Mark Flakne, president of Keep Columbia Free, said his issue with using police forfeiture funding is not one of legality, but morality.
The council's vote comes two weeks after the Columbia Police Officers' Association made what Mayor Bob McDavid called a "racist" post on its Facebook page. The officers' association posted the comment after the vote was delayed at the council meeting March 18.
Roberts has since apologized for the comment, which was deleted from the association's Facebook page shortly after it was made.
In other council action, a rezoning request by MFA Oil Co. to build a Break Time gas station and convenience store at Rock Quarry Road and Grindstone Parkway was tabled until the April 15 meeting. The council will decide whether to approve the rezoning of the 2-acre site from agricultural to planned commercial property.
Missourian reporter Tony Puricelli contributed to this report.
Supervising editor is Karen Miller.