Letter to the editor: No, local law enforcement don’t need a BearCat

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

By Gerene Denning

I read the community response regarding the Johnson County Board of Supervisors meeting where the purchase of a BearCat was discussed. As a retired injury and violence prevention public health researcher, I strongly agree that the comments by BOS members were inappropriate and badly misinformed. Psychologically, the false meme that “law enforcement is in danger every minute of every day” that is part of training that militarizes the police is extremely dangerous. It has the potential to create a level of anxiety and distrust between officers and others that can easily result in escalation of fear and violence. We know that while not always explicitly stated, it is inferred that certain communities are a greater threat, including communities of color and persons in mental health crisis. Again, this is a FALSE and very dangerous belief that promotes systemic bias, discrimination and police violence against the innocent.

Here is the truth. A little over 100 law enforcement officers’ lives are lost to violence each year in America. While every death is tragic, this clearly demonstrates that, fortunately, the threat of lethal violence is actually quite low. In fact, 27 other professions have a higher occupational death rate than law enforcement and the major cause of law enforcement deaths is car crashes. The perpetuators who kill these officers are violent felons or extremists, they are heavily armed, and 53 percent are White. These characteristics are very different from what law enforcement officers are often led to believe about who and what constitutes a threat, including the race of the perpetrator. The best way to protect law enforcement (and the community) is through gun safety legislation.

A BearCat could be a valuable purchase should Johnson County ever become an active war zone or destroyed by a catastrophic climate event. Until that time, it is not only a misuse of funds that could go toward efforts to more effectively increase community safety, it could also create or exacerbate distrust between law enforcement and local communities.