A new BearCat has joined the Binghamton University family, and no, it is not a new student. In July, the Binghamton Police Department (BPD) received an armored truck called the BearCat G3 with a grant secured by New York State Sen. Fred Akshar.
According to a press release from Akshar’s office, the BearCat was manufactured by Lenco Armored Vehicles and is meant to be used by BPD’s SWAT team in emergency situations, such as hostage situations, barricaded subjects, recovery of downed officers or civilians, high-risk warrant raids and as a rescue vehicle during weather emergencies, including severe flooding.
The BearCat G3, according to Lenco Armored Vehicles’ website, sports all-steel armor construction and tactical features, and seats approximately 10 to 12 fully equipped officers. Robin Alpaugh, director of operations for Akshar, said the vehicle could also be used on campus in the event of an emergency, such as a mass shooting.
But not all members of the community are on board with the purchase. Kelvin Santiago-Valles, a professor of sociology at BU who researches the use of military-grade weapons by local police forces and the issues it can raise, said he is concerned that the purchase of the BearCat G3 will have an adverse effect on marginalized communities.
“Obtaining this kind of hardware only further militarizes the duties of law enforcement personnel, which places at even greater risk those vulnerable civilian populations already bearing the brunt of police abuse and violence, [such as] poor people and people of color,” Santiago-Valles wrote in an email.
Estelle Garrett, a student of Santiago-Valles and an undeclared sophomore, noted that having vehicles like this can also affect public perception of police officers.
“It both gives police officers more physical force they can exert, which at least causes worries, but also it creates a more combative idea in the officer’s head that this is some sort of war or fight, rather than understanding that police officers should ideally be there to protect the public and not act as if they’re in a war zone,” Garrett said.
Rather than feeling more safe, Garrett said she would likely be scared if she saw the BearCat G3 on campus.
“Either there’s a reason for it to be around campus, in which case I’m scared, because why do we need this thing,” she said. “There must be something terrible going on, or there isn’t a reason for it to be on campus. I’m scared, because we suddenly have this very forceful piece of machinery around that can be used incorrectly.”
The vehicle was purchased for $275,000 with a State and Municipal (SAM) Facilities Grant. The money for the grant program is allocated in the state budget and put aside for members of the New York State Legislature to aid municipalities. Additional funds from the grant went to support approximately 40 different projects in Akshar’s district, including improvements to the Jewish Community Center of Binghamton.
According to Benji Federman, district coordinator for Akshar, the purchase of the BearCat G3 was a product of discussions between Akshar, Mayor Rich David and BPD Chief Joseph Zikuski.
“The senator had said we want to be helpful,” Federman said. “And when the city leaders said this is an area where you could be helpful, the senator was happy to provide that funding to them.”
Before the vehicle was publicly unveiled at a press conference in July, the BearCat G3 was used to defuse a situation involving drugs. According to Alpaugh, there was a standoff between a man barricaded in a house and BPD, and the BearCat G3 was used to create a hole through the house. Afterward, the man surrendered peacefully, and no one was hurt.
“Those are the kind of things that it can be used for, you know, with the drugs in the community,” Alpaugh said. “There’s no end to the kind of uses that it can do, you know, to defuse a situation, to open up a house that somebody has barricaded themselves in.”
Still, others say someone will eventually get hurt without cause. Roderick Douglass, social media coordinator for Progressive Leaders Of Tomorrow (PLOT), an advocacy group that has pushed for police reform in Binghamton, wrote in an email that the BearCat G3 puts the community in danger, as it is a military-grade vehicle and a “tool of war.” According to Douglass, when these vehicles and weapons are publicly displayed by law enforcement, it instills fear in residents.
“Many members of the community are frightened,” Douglass wrote. “It’s an intimidation tactic used by the police, and they do this intentionally when announcing these units. They want community members to fear the police. And it’s working.”
BPD could not be reached for comment.