Nashua Alderman Siegel on police militarization

In the wake of the Ferguson events, people are starting to question police militarization, so this is a good time to bring pressure to roll it back. In this spirit, I wrote to the Nashua, NH Board of Aldermen asking if it’s possible to get rid of the Lenco Bearcat armored vehicle which the police department possesses. I sent a link to Lenco’s promotional video, which shows that the vehicle is sold to be used in military-style assaults. Alderman Ken Siegel was kind enough to reply to me. His message runs out of coherence before the end, but it appears that he’s a firm champion of military equipment in the hands of local police officers.

Mr. McGath,

Thank you for contacting the Board of Aldermen. I am responding to your note but I am doing so as an individual member of the Board. The views I express are my own.

You may not be aware that in Nashua, the police are governed by a Police Commission. There are three Police Commissioners and they are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Executive Counsel. By statute, we have no authority over the police department. By extension, we have no authority over their tactics or choice of equipment.

Fair enough. If the city government really has no ability to limit the police department, that’s a serious problem, but one that has to be addressed on its own terms. It may help to explain why New Hampshire police departments are able to run wild. Concord is apparently different; there the acquisition of a Bearcat had to be approved by the City Council. Still, so far it’s a coherent and fair answer. (I haven’t double-checked its accuracy yet.)

In response to your concern about the use of former military technology, I would point out that the message you sent us was delivered using the IP protocol. This was developed by DARPA to deploy a survivable mesh communications network under battlefield conditions. I think it is safe to say this technology was successfully transitioned to civilian use.

Here his reasoning gets distinctly strained, though I give him points for technical knowledge. But he’s drawing a bizarre equivalence between the IP protocol and a vehicle designed for military-style attacks, as if there’s no difference between putting one and the other into the hands of police officers. From here on he just plunges into incoherence:

In regards to the acronym which describes the former military vehicle, I think that is an unfortunate reason to dismiss the utility of the technology. There may be other reasons as you have endeavored to point out. I don’t see an acronym as one of them. Perhaps, rather than focus on that acronym with its perceived negative connotations, you might consider another acronym as a means to spread a different message:

Obligated to
Continue to
Prejudice is

By forming a group of like-minded SOCKPUPPETs, perhaps you can bring the goal of beating swords into plowshares to fruition. Then, our officers would no longer need Bearcats. They may suffice with nothing more threatening than aluminum foil hats for protection from the ills of a more progressive society.

Here it’s only possible to pull fragments out of his rant to get a clue about what he means. I think he’s saying that the Lenco’s designation and promotion of the Bearcat as an attack vehicle is irrelevant. He also seems to be implying that my message actually came from a “sock puppet,” in spite of the fact that I gave my address in Nashua, which he can readily check is real. I could understand his claiming to the other aldermen or the public that I’m not an actual Nashua resident, but what does he gain from implying it to me, when we both know it’s false?

Also, he implies that our officers do need Bearcats (plural) and offers the false alternative of having police with armored vehicles or police with no weapons at all. Normally I’d take that kind of writing as the gibbering of a 14-year-old Internet troll, but this person is part of the city government where I live.

The only encouraging thing is that if that’s the intellectual level of the advocates of military-grade police weaponry, we’ll have no trouble winning the argument. The discouraging thing is that with people of this level of thinking ability, winning an argument on its merits may not change much.

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