Board right to support Bearcat purchase

THE SHEBOYGAN COUNTY SHERIFF’S Department is adding a Bearcat to its roster, thanks to the generosity of several private donors and the right decision by the County Board last week.

This Bearcat isn’t a giant panda being enlisted as some kind of alternative to a police dog or other animal, nor is it an athlete from the University of Cincinnati, or an American luxury sports car from the early 1900s.

No, this Bearcat is a Lenco Bearcat, an armored rescue vehicle which the department will purchase for $235,000, utilizing $90,000 in private donations and $145,000 in unspent budgeted funds from the past two years.

The purchase was included in the 2016 county budget which the County Board approved last week and it proved to be the only item of contention in the $128 million spending plan.

The board wisely overruled the objections led by supervisors Fay Uraynar and Jim Baumgart, much of which was characterized by mischaracterization and misinformation.

It began with the board’s budget review session when Uraynar characterized the Bearcat as “a Bradley-type armored vehicle.”

A week later, when the board was deliberating the budget for final action, Uraynar continued to characterize it as an attack vehicle first and expressed concern that, while it will not be armed, it could be in the future.

She also stated that the vehicle would require additional costs for storage, maintenance and training for those who would use it.

Baumgart, meanwhile, expressed concern about the Sheriff’s Department soliciting private funds for the vehicle and wondered whether such solicitations by uniformed law enforcement officials is ethical or legal.

First of all, Baumgart’s fears were specious. One need look no further than here in Plymouth, where the Police Department successfully raised private donations to finance their new K-9 unit. Local law enforcement agencies – like many other government departments and agencies – have long solicited private funds and support for worthwhile projects without anyone raising the doubts or concerns that Baumgart raised or questioning its legality.

Uraynar, meanwhile, was guilty of exaggerating fears and misrepresenting the issue.

The meaning of the Bearcat acronym – Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck – refutes much of what she claimed. It is ballistic-engineered, yes, but not armed and in the majority of cases is not armed – and will not be by the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Department without the approval of elected county officials who are answerable to the voters.

It is an armored response counter-attack truck, which Sheriff Todd Priebe emphasized again and again will be used only as a rescue vehicle to enable law enforcement to respond safely to dangerous situations and safely extract innocent civilians from harm’s way.

“This gives us some security in high-risk situations to extract people. It allows us to enter those high-risk areas with some safety,” Priebe said following the board meeting.

Uraynar and others on the board characterized the Bearcat as “over the top” and “overkill.”

Those misrepresentations maligned the intent of the sheriff, his department and the vehicle.

“This will be a piece of equipment the … department will use, just like any other piece of equipment they use to protect the safety and security of the citizens of Sheboygan County,” Supervisor Thomas Epping rightly emphasized.

Sheriff Priebe has been a tireless and forceful advocate of a community approach to law enforcement, dating back to his days on the city of Sheboygan Police Department and carrying on into his current position.

He has always emphasized a community-first and citizen-first approach to law enforcement, and there is no reason to believe that this latest acquisition is anything but part and parcel of Priebe’s long-standing beliefs.

“It is a rescue vehicle. When we need it, we need it. I’m hoping we never do, but we want to ensure the safety of the men and women who are doing dangerous work in dangerous times,” Priebe told the board during its debate on the Bearcat.

He was, and is right – and the board was right to support him.

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