By Kevin Harris
The Oxnard City Council voted to accept an armored rescue vehicle donated by the state, a move that has some residents labeling the “militarization of our police force,” during Tuesday night’s video conferenced city council meeting. The session also included an important City Manager Report, with updates on covid-19, and local Measure E.
SACRAMENTO DONATES A BEARCAT TO OXNARD
Though Tuesday’s meeting oddly had the public comment on the issue before the city council discussed the matter, it did not seem to detract from the information flow or feel of the topic. Because some of the council member’s comments pertained to the concerns of the public speakers, however, Citizens Journal will follow the order of the meeting, and present the public speaker’s testimony first.
At issue is the proposed donation of one Lenco Bearcat armored rescue vehicle, valued at approximately $265,000, by California to the City of Oxnard. As explained by Police Chief Benites, if accepted, the vehicle will replace the aging armored rescue vehicle currently owned by the city.
Public speakers called in to the meeting with their comments:
Lucy Cartegena: “We don’t need a donation of another militarized vehicle in the city of Oxnard,” she began. “Oxnard already has one or two. The County of Ventura returned militarized items from the state because it set a bad example for the Sheriff’s Department. I believe the city of Oxnard needs to follow suit,” she added.
Ms. Cartegena also suggested that Oxnard having a Bearcat makes it “insensitive to the community,” and that it is not needed at this time.
Eric Fruit: “Oxnard is not a war zone,” he said. “There’s no need for an armored vehicle. All this vehicle is, is a deadly toy for the police to ride around in, and feel invincible, and feed into their existing God complex. There’s no need for military equipment to be used in civilian settings,” he added.
He suggested that the state donated the vehicle in order to intimidate protesters that OPD does not like or agree with, before going on anti-police rant himself. “The public needs an armored vehicle to protect them from the police.”
City Council Response:
Bryan A MacDonald, Mayor Pro-Tem: “I think some people are missing the point of this agenda item, MacDonald said. “This is a rescue vehicle… The department has had a vehicle similar to this for the past 16-20 years. It is not a hidden item. For years it has been sitting in the police parking lot,” he added.
He said annual maintenance for the vehicle is about $2500, in part because it is so rarely used.
“The police department probably would prefer not to be militarized, to be perfectly honest. But there are times when things happen that need some type of response,” the Mayor Pro Term reasoned. He then quoted examples of the famous North Hollywood bank robbery and the recent incident in Massachusetts, with the heavily armed militia group and their broken-down car on the roadside. “This simply provides a safe haven for people to be removed from hazardous situations.”
Councilmember Bert E. Perello: Pointed out that a similar armored vehicle was used to rescue a local family that was under violent attack. “We would be out of our minds not to take this,” Perello insisted. “We’re not a blood-thirsty group of cops going around killing people. That’s not this city.”
Police Chief Jason Benites: Said the vehicle is not a military surplus, mine-resistant personnel carrier from the battlefield. “It is a 5-ton armored car built on a Ford F-550 Super Duty truck chassis,” Benites said. He explained that the proposed donated vehicle is to replace the 16-year-old vehicle the city acquired in 2005. “This is not a tank. It does not have weapons.”
Answering a question from Councilmember Perrello, the police chief pointed out that Ventura PD, Simi Valley, and “every other medium-sized agency” has such a vehicle.
Despite some public concerns about militarization of the city’s police force, the city council voted unanimously in favor of accepting the donated rescue vehicle.
OXNARD CITY MANAGER REPORT
Oxnard City Manager Alex Nguyen presented his report and called the latest covid-19 report “the most urgent update right now.” According to Nguyen, “The state has made it possible to provide 100 percent your back rent, and this is eligible to residents as well as to landlords.”
The website to apply or for further information is “HousingisKey.com” or you can call 833-430-2122. Newman said the fund covers back rent as well as future rent for the “next several months.”
OXNARD MOBILE VACCINE CLINICS:
-Wednesday, July 7: Vaccination clinic at the Boys & Girls Club (5th St. & Oxnard), from 3 PM – 6:30 PM. Providing vaccines for anyone 12 years and up.
-Thursday, July 8: Two Vaccination clinics.
1) Ocean View Jr. High, 11 AM – 3 PM. Twelve years and up.
2) United Farmworkers Foundation Offices, 11 AM – 6 PM. Twelve years and up.
-Monday, July 12: Vaccination Clinic at Channel Islands High (1400 Raiders Way).
1:30 PM – 6 PM. 12 years and up.
-Tuesday, July 13: Vaccination Clinic at Our Lady of Guadelupe Church (500 N. Juanita Rd.)
11 AM – 6 PM. 18 years and up.
The permanent local clinics also remain open during this time.
Other Updates Provided During City Manager Report:
-“Measure E”: Started on July 1, and the city has just started to receive funds for the measure (the city budget was passed last week). Implementation and benefits of the measure can now move forward.
-311 Green Team: A report to be published every two weeks, tasked with publicizing, and cleaning up local illegal dumping sites. Based on resident reporting using the 311 app. A June test run proved highly successful in the reporting and cleaning up of illegally dumped trash around the city.
To dispose of unwanted items safely and legally such as mattresses, refrigerators, and other household goods, you can call the Del Norte Recycling Station at 805-385-8060.
The next Oxnard City Council Meeting will be held on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, at 6:00 PM. To view the meeting online, go to the following url: https://www.toaks.org/departments/city-manager-s-office/watch-totv/past-meeting-videos.
Kevin Harris is a reporter, editor and journalist, previous President of Cal State Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists, and having worked for the LA Times and Newhall Signal. He is now also an author and videographer, and lives with his two children in Thousand Oaks.
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I heard people were going to protest. They would protest anything.
Thanks Kevin for your article.
I was intrigued by the issue of the Bearcat vehicle. I’ve always been a person that “would prefer to have it and not need it than a person who needs it but doesn’t have it.” Considering that this is a rescue vehicle, I believe the concern of “militarization” is unfounded.
William, thanks for the comment. This is a tough call for me. I generally oppose true military equipment being given to, or purchased by local police forces, but in this case I honestly don’t know whether this vehicle qualifies as military surplus.
It walks and talks like an MRAP vehicle, but in other ways it’s an enhanced Ford F-550. I’d say keep this one, but watch it carefully.
Ordinarily I might agree with your concern, BUT this PD has had a similar vehicle, unarmed with weapons, for a long time, without incident of concern. The vehicle is a replacement, not an addition. If it ever became an addition I would share your concern. It isn’t like they are using this kind of vehicle for general policing purposes. It’s a special purpose vehicle. It’s always good to look at these potentials with a jaundiced eye. It’s well worth bringing up a concern before it is realized and may be too late.