The purchase of armored equipment has been a heated debate for some time now, especially since the city council approved the purchase last week.
"I want to thank all the many members of council who supported some of the grant funds used to purchase the Rook piece of equipment for the police department,” said a Sacramento resident. “I've come from the North area where I've had experience years ago having a gun in my face. I'm very aware violent crime is real."
The Sacramento resident told the city council that she was grateful for the addition. But others like Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness' Bob Erlenbush believes the community is already over-militarized.
"It's traumatizing. Especially for communities of color, that already are traumatized, given everything that's happened in this country over the last year or two," said Erlenbush.
City officials say the Rook comes with no purchase cost to the city. It is covered by a federal grant, through the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) Program, run by the Department of Homeland Security.
"The UASI program is a component of the federal homeland grant program which aims to help strengthen the nation's communities against potential terrorist attacks and supports the goal to strengthen national preparedness and resilience in ridding the nation of catastrophic disasters,” said Lieutenant Lai Lai Bui of the Sacramento Police Department.
Police say the Department of Homeland Security has identified Sacramento as one of the high-density urban areas most at risk for terrorism. This leaves many to question, how the equipment will actually be used.
"It's not used for routine operation and it will only be used in the most dangerous situations,” said Sacramento Police Chief Kathy Lester. “It's not used for things like protests or camp clean-ups. We believe that the Rook can help us to provide enhanced protection for our officers and the public while helping us safely navigate really high-risk events that the police department is charged with resolving in our community."
Chief Kathy Lester says its unique capabilities will allow what can't be accomplished with the equipment they have now. Examples include the ability to move in very tight places, remove dangerous obstacles and access second stories of buildings and homes.
Erlenbusch says he's all for keeping officers safe, but he believes the money could have been used for something else.
“With half a million dollars, you could hire more outreach workers for homeless encampments and provide more services, domestic violence counseling or mental health treatments," said Erlenbusch.
Sacramento City Councilmember Caity Maple who voted to approve the Rook last week said, “I wish this violence didn't happen at all and I firmly believe we need to invest in mental health care and interventions to prevent it from occurring in the first place. But while we still live in a world where this violence does occur, we must prepare for it.”
Maple also said that within hours of the council's vote, people sent messages to her and her family, posted her address online, threatened to burn her house down and harassed her staff.
She will host a town call on Feb. 28 to hear from District 5 residents and community members about the Rook purchase and issues related to public safety.
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