Letter to the editor: Johnson County supervisors owe public an apology for comments during BearCat discussion

A Lenco BearCat utilized by the Ottawa Police Service. — Matti Blume

We the people have some reflections about the informal meeting of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors on Thursday, Aug. 19 wherein Sheriff Brad Kunkel requested funds to purchase a Lenco BearCat.

From this meeting, after being subjected to inappropriate remarks, we demand that Sup. Porter apologize and take steps to repair the harm her comments have inflicted on the BIPOC community and folks living with mental illness in Johnson County and Iowa.

During the meeting, Supervisors Pat Heiden and Royceann Porter presented false information about gun violence and mental illness to support the purchase of the BearCat. Both raised their voices at a member of the public, making direct eye contact with him while clearly expressing agitation about his earlier statements. As the time for public comment had passed, the resident was not allowed to respond to Sup. Heiden’s direct address. Supervisor Porter also directly addressed two members of the public by name at a time when these people were not in a position to be able to respond.

Supervisor Porter made damaging remarks claiming that individuals having a mental health crisis are a danger to officers and that officers are justified in using any force necessary as a result. She stated that responding with an armored vehicle is necessary to protect officers from those in crisis. This assertion flies in the face of countless studies that have shown that the officer is much more likely to be a danger to an individual in crisis. Hearing an elected official reinforce this dangerous lie is a blow to individuals who worry that they or their loved ones could be victimized by law enforcement while in crisis.

Beyond the behavior of these supervisors that must be addressed and repaired, the topic of the meeting must also be considered as its consequences will directly affect the public.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors meets on Aug. 19, 2021.

The arguments that Sups. Heiden and Porter made about gun violence are outright false. One of the most repellent arguments is Porter’s use of the lie of “Black on Black violence.” We live in a geographically segregated society due to systemic racism shaping our neighborhoods. When people commit crimes, it is usually against people they live near. This is not a phenomenon unique to Black communities and it is being used to silence and redirect the conversation.

A BearCat will not protect residents from harm. Even if police could respond in a timely enough manner to appear on the scene while shots were being fired, an armored vehicle would do nothing to protect people outside of the vehicle.

A BearCat will not protect officers either. If police are responding to an emergency, they will be exiting the vehicle. The repeated argument that an armored vehicle is necessary to get officers home safe to their families is an insult to our intelligence. There is nothing a BearCat can realistically do in an active crisis situation that a regular police car cannot do at a significantly lower expense.

There is a wealth of research on why militarizing the police is ineffective for public safety which must be taken seriously in making an informed decision.

Clinging to false talking points as a reason to bring a tool of combat into Johnson County ignores facts and fails to justify spending money on this unwelcome vehicle. The consequences of acquiring the BearCat will echo long past the current board’s terms in office.

It isn’t too late for this board to avoid being responsible for this costly piece of equipment and the harm it will do.



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