The Kingston Common Council was expected to vote this week on whether to authorized the Kingston Police Department to use a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security toward the purchase of a tactical team vehicle for the Kingston-Ulster Emergency Services Unit. Critics of the purchase compared the vehicle to a tank.
The matter was opposed by members of the Common Council’s Finance and Audit Committee on Wednesday, July 14, which saw Democrats Reynolds Scott-Childress (Ward 3), Tony Davis (Ward 6), Steve Schabot (Ward 8) and Michele Hirsch (Ward 6) vote against the proposed resolution. Fellow committee member Don Tallerman, a Democrat representing Ward 5, was not in attendance.
The meeting was attended by more than three dozen opponents of the purchase, many carrying large portraits of people killed in incidents with police around the country, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Among the people opposing the purchase was Shannon Wong, assistant director of the Hudson Valley chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
“There is no need for weapons of war in our streets where Black and brown people are already being killed by the government, by the police,” said Wong. “There is no reason to give further militarization to the police department…The change in equipment is often paralleled by a corresponding change in the attitude whereby police see themselves as at war with communities rather than as public servants concerned with community safety. And that’s already a struggle.”
Also speaking against the vehicle was Lisa Royer, a criminal justice organizer for Rise Up Kingston, who said the committee should instead be discussing justice for Monica Goods, an 11-year old Brooklyn girl who died on the New York State Thruway in the Town of Ulster when her father’s SUV was in a crash involving a state police car during a pursuit on Tuesday, December 22, 2020. Goods was represented by one of the portraits carried by opponents of the vehicle purchase.
“It breaks my heart to have to sit here and talk about a tank being brought into our town when an 11-year old girl was just killed at Exit 19 on the New York State Thruway in Kingston and no one’s talking about that,” Royer said. “Everyone came and marched with us and said, ‘Black Lives Matter’…do they matter when someone was killed here and no one is asking for justice? What we should be discussing tonight is justice for Monica Goods and not a fucking tank.”
For Town of Ulster’s use also
Kingston Police Chief Egidio Tinti said the vehicle was “not a tank,” but rather a tactical vehicle for specific circumstances.
“This is no different than a commercial Brinks armored car,” Tinti said. “This provides safety and security for the individuals in the vehicle to get up to tactically sound situations for retrieval and rescue. That’s what this is. There are no gun turrets on it, it has no offensive capability…It may not be the politically correct thing to do, but we’re talking about lives, officers’ lives and civilians’ lives.” Tinti added that the Kingston-Ulster Emergency Services Unit has had to rely on other agencies in emergency situations. “The nearest one is almost an hour away,” Tinti said. “That takes too long when lives are at stake.”
Tinti said that the vehicle would be purchased with a $100,000 Department of Homeland Security grant along with $75,000 from the Town of Ulster. The vehicle, a 2004 Lenco BearCat G1, would be the unit’s first since their 1979 armored car was deemed inoperable two years ago.
Deputy Police Chief Mike Bonse said the Kingston-Ulster Emergency Services Unit was deployed an average of once per month for a variety of reasons.
“Some of the missions are missing children, some of the missions are executing search warrants or arrest warrants,” Bonse said. “The main priority is for emergency response, responding to an armed individual or somebody that’s in crisis that may be armed…not all of them would require that equipment.”
Davis said he left work early to ensure he was at the afternoon committee meeting. “This vehicle does not belong in the City of Kingston,” he said.
The Finance and Audit Committee vote was advisory, and a final decision was scheduled to be made during a meeting of the Common Council Tuesday, August 3.