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Marin County officials say an armored truck is a good thing to have on hand in a world so volatile that terrorism, mayhem and calamity can strike any neighborhood in any town or any place at any time.

But in a region where law officers take the Boy Scout motto "Be Prepared" to heart, a county decision this week to buy a $370,000, steel-plated, state-of-the-art response and rescue vehicle from a Massachusetts defense contractor has triggered a firestorm of protest.
Critics are blasting the move by Sheriff Robert Doyle and the county Board of Supervisors, contending the BearCat G3 rescue truck from Lenco Armored Vehicles is a ridiculous waste of money.

The BearCat, which can withstand explosive blasts and .50 caliber gunfire, is "used by SWAT and special-ops teams at high-security facilities" and is just what the county's Special Response Team needs in order to handle "incidents that are beyond the capability of first responders," Sheriff Doyle advised supervisors. The sheriff said the 16-member special response team includes a four-member "weapons of mass destruction unit" to deal with "chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive agents." The team is trained in "terrorism response scenarios" and is designed as "a regional asset in the North Bay."

It's the only unit of its kind in the North Bay.

"Wow, I'm just boggled by the stupidity of this," said Mike Benefield of San Anselmo, joining a fusillade of protest posted online at "Has there ever been a single incident in which any Marin police agency has been under fire from a .50 cal rifle or roadside bomb?" he wondered. "Instead they could be spending the money patrolling that crime-plagued Marin City bus stop, or downtown San Rafael."

"I, for one, will sleep better knowing that if Sonoma invades, we're ready," deadpanned Jody Morales of Lucas Valley. "I think we might need to do a whole lot of housecleaning up there at Fort Civic Center."

Many others joining the online conversation seemed to agree, although a few noted that if an officer gets shot in an incident where an armored vehicle could have been used, "we will be pounding our desks asking why we were not prepared," as Kevin Moore put it.

Sheriff Doyle, saying he was both disappointed and surprised by the chorus of critics, said the truck will be the only such vehicle in the North Bay and will shore up regional security. "If the critics had access to the threat assessments of the Bay Area, they would think differently," Doyle said without elaborating. "This is a regional asset we were selected to have."

The federal and state grant funds used to buy the vehicle could not be used for other programs, or shifted to replace local money, he added. "These are Homeland Security funds designed for this kind of anti-terrorism project. ... If people have a problem with these types of programs, they need to contact their federal legislator," the sheriff said. "If our program was not funded, some other anti-terrorism program in another county would have been."

Novato Police Chief Jim Berg, lauding Doyle's staff "for an outstanding job in going out and getting these funds," called the vehicle well worthwhile, a "wonderful piece of equipment" able to respond to incidents including public safety calamities that can happen anywhere. "It's not just for terrorism," Chief Berg added. "It's multifaceted. It's able to respond to a whole variety of incidents."

Several county supervisors remained tight-lipped amid the controversy, but Steve Kinsey appeared on a television news broadcast, noting the county was known for planning ahead.

The purchase followed analysis and a "process of prioritization" among North Bay public safety agencies, Kinsey said. "While no one wants to waste money on expensive technology, we also would forever lament our failure if we had an opportunity to be prepared and we ignored it," he said. "The funding implements a national program to increase readiness, but it will also allow us to respond to more normal local hazardous waste clean-up challenges as well."

Judy Arnold, president of the county board, noted the vehicle "was paid for with Homeland Security funds to be used for major security disasters region-wide."

And Supervisor Susan Adams, who is recovering from knee surgery and did not attend the county board meeting Tuesday, stressed the same thing. "These are not county general funds dollars," said Adams, head of the county Disaster Council. "The Bay Area is trying to gear up right now to have regional response equipment through the area," Adams said, adding the airtight vehicle would be helpful in incidents involving hazardous materials.

Varying views were expressed among those with raised eyebrows.

William Rothman of Belvedere, commenting as an individual, and not as the vice chairman of the county Peace Conversion Commission, which watchdog's Marin's 1986 Nuclear Free Zone Law, says "no legally improper procedures" were used in the purchase. The vehicle was approved without discussion along with other county business on a routine consent calendar Tuesday.

"I was personally saddened about the armored military-style vehicle contract, because I see it as promoting an exaggerated atmosphere that our society is under quasi military siege, and therefore needs, routinely, to react in a quasi-military manner," Rothman added.

Former Supervisor Denis Rice, who wondered whether Civic Center was a "'high-security facility" in need of the kind of protection provided by the vehicle, noted that its funding comes from federal and state Homeland Security grants, plus $46,500 from a sheriff's office trust fund.

"If these are all funds that could be available for any other kinds of county activities, I'd say this expenditure is somewhat irresponsible," Rice said. "If it comes from federal and state grants that can only be used for such anti-terrorist vehicles, then one would say it's a case of 'if the money's already there, spend it.'"

Sheriff Doyle shook his head as he reflected on the commotion. "When you are in public safety, it's all about being prepared," Doyle said. "Look at all the events that have happened. Aurora. The Connecticut school ... those things could happen anywhere.

"I can put my head down and go to sleep at night because I believe in what I am doing."

Editors Note:  I am glad that Sheriff Doyle can sleep at night.  What concerns me is the creeping power of the state with cellphone tracking technology, internet snooping, and the militarization of our civilian police forces.  Isn't this what happens in totalitarian regimes? I agree with Mr. Rothman. Look for a ballot measure to purchase a new high powered communication/surveillance system in Marin sponsored by MERA in the next election. See

What me worry?