The South Fulton City Council approved spending $377,000 to buy an armored tactical vehicle at its Tuesday meeting.
But before the vote, councilmembers listened to objections from residents who questioned the need for the vehicle and said they were concerned about outfitting police forces with military-grade equipment.
The vehicle the city wants is made by Lenco Armored Vehicles, known as a “BearCat” model. It’s marketed as an armored personnel carrier designed for military and law enforcement use.
Three people who said they were students at Georgia State University came to the meeting and spoke against the purchase, calling the vehicle a “tank” and adding that “the people of South Fulton are not enemy combatants.”
South Fulton Police Chief Keith Meadows said there has been a lot of confusion around the vehicle, but he added it’s not a tank. He said it is more like an armored bank truck than a tank because there are no weapons attached.
“It is not a military tank,” said Mayor Bill Edwards. “You can’t take what they want over to Afghanistan and expect to live.”
The issue of an increasingly militarized police force has become a flashpoint in America. Opponents say police equipped with military surplus or military-style resources intimidate residents, but pro-police forces say this is what it takes for cops to come home these days.
According to an estimate filed with the city, the vehicle will have a 6.7-liter turbo diesel engine with a thermal camera and a gas injector, which police often use to smoke people out of a building.
Meadows said there have been 19 situations so far this year, mostly involving hostages, during which a vehicle like this would have made his officers safer.
Councilwoman Helen Willis said that when South Fulton police busted an auto chop shop earlier this month, they had requested the use of a command center from county police. But that took longer than expected, delaying the bust.
“We had officers sleeping in cars for two days,” Willis said.
She gave a passionate speech about why police need this vehicle: “Stop doing our public safety like this. Help them help us,” Willis said.
The sole vote against the vehicle was Councilman Khalid Kamau, who said while other jurisdictions have such vehicles, those municipalities have budgets that dwarf South Fulton’s.
There was a question about where the money would come from, which was in part solved when Meadows suggested leasing the BearCat. He said they wouldn’t have to start paying until they got the vehicle in July.
Ben Brasch is the reporter tasked with keeping Fulton County government accountable. The Florida native moved to Atlanta for a job with The AJC. If there's something important to you going on in Fulton, he wants to know about it. Help him better metro Atlanta by dropping a line, anonymously or otherwise.