Keene Police Chief responds to
criticism involving armored vehicle

Carly Thurlow

Contributing Writer


Keene Police Chief Kenneth Meola addressed Keene State Journalism students and faculty on Monday regarding the controversial topic of a little town buying a big armored vehicle.

In regard to the proposed LENCO BearCat, “We see a need in the vehicle as a resource and tool for public safety and rescue missions,” Meola said. “We ultimately have a vehicle we can utilize to get people out safely, and that’s how we see it.”

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The plans of obtaining the $285,933, eight-ton armored personnel vehicle has been put on hold for the past several weeks due to the public uproar on the issue.

Since the Feb. 9 public hearing on the issue the controversy has continued to stretch nationwide regarding the militarism of local law enforcements.

“The image of the Keene Police Dept. won’t change,” Meola said. “You’re not getting a new police department, if you’re not happy with us or are happy with us this truck does not change that.”

According to Chief Meola, the police department was a little surprised that the issue got this much attention, but “that’s okay.”

In response to  some vocal Keene residents opposing the vehicle, he said, “They have stated what they wanted in an appropriate setting. They have the right to voice their opinion.”

Meola confidently reiterated that the BearCat won’t change the face of Keene Police Dept. because it is “just a truck.”

The vehicle will contain no battering ram or rocket launchers and according to Meola, contains nothing “too extravagant.” “If you can drive a truck you can drive this vehicle.”

“Will the vehicle be driving down Blake Street on a Saturday night? No,” he said. The vehicle will not be used on a frequent basis and will be stored in a garage, but the location of where that garage is will not be revealed..

“We have never applied for the vehicle before,” Meola said. According to Meola there have been changes over the years where more regional tactical teams have been formed.

These teams come up with standards and how they operate and train. The state trains teams accordingly so that if one needs to step in for another they have the same training background.

“The Tactical Association looks at what you are lacking,” he said, “We were lacking a vehicle like this.”

There are six other LENCO BearCats distributed in the state of N.H. and with the closest one to Keene being Manchester it would take an hour or even more for the vehicle to respond and get to a situation.

During the press conference, Meola concentrated on specific scenarios where the vehicle would be used to their advantage. He used examples of the 2007 campus riot after the Red Sox won the World Series and Pumpkin Festival being a potential terrorist target as times when they would take advantage of the equipment.

“Do I think al-Qaeda is going to target Pumpkin Fest? No, but are there fringe groups that want to make a statement? Yes, and we should prepare for that,” he said. “It is a target in the N.H. region.”

“We never anticipated that to happen on campus and off campus,” he said in regards to the destruction of property that happened during the 2007 riot. “It serves as a level of protection.”

Tactical team accessories for certain situations, such as tear gas or “flash bangs” are not stored on the vehicle but are brought on board depending the situation being advanced.

Meola said that if there was ever to be a school shooting the BearCat would play a “safety role on campus” even if it was just as a shield. “It’d be a benefit we did not have before.”

There is also constant truck traffic through the area. A number of trucks that come through contain nuclear waste and hazardous materials. The vehicle will also have a $28,000 thermal image camera, showing differences in temperatures and a radiation detection that will be useful in cases with the Hazardous Materials team.

Meola said if the city council does accept the Homeland Security grant to obtain the LENCO BearCat the community can expect to see the vehicle in four to six months. However, if the council denies, the application can be accomplished again but Keene will most likely not reapply.

The City Council meeting will be held on Thursday, March 1 at 7 p.m. at Keene City Hall to vote on the final decision of the proposed Bearcat.

“It is what it is,” Meola said, “At the end of the day City Council will make a decision.”


Carly Thurlow can be contacted at


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