HYATTSVILLE – It has been one year since riots broke out in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray and now, with Hyattsville’s civil defense gear needing updates, the city is faced with a choice: prepare the city police force for any possible unrest, or willingly defund the gear to keep in line with the […]
HYATTSVILLE – It has been one year since riots broke out in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray and now, with Hyattsville’s civil defense gear needing updates, the city is faced with a choice: prepare the city police force for any possible unrest, or willingly defund the gear to keep in line with the city’s policing model.
Hyattsville’s City Council was faced with this choice last week during a special council meeting on April 27 and chose to eliminate the funding for civil defense gear from the fiscal year 2017 budget in a six-to-two vote, with three councilmembers absent from the meeting.
Earlier in the budget process, Hyattsville Police Chief Douglas Holland said he had found the city’s old civil defense gear and noted it was unserviceable. As part of the fiscal year 2017 budget, $17,000 was requested to update the equipment. However, Mayor Candace Hollingsworth and councilmen Bart Lawrence and Patrick Paschall put forth a motion to eliminate funding for the gear in the budget.
“The proposed (capital improvements plan) includes funding totaling $17,000 for the replacement of equipment ordinarily used in the event of a civil disturbance/unrest. The existing equipment was obtained through the federal surplus program several years ago and has been determined to be unfit for use,” the motion reads. “Investment in this particular type of armor does not increase the safety of officers in typical, daily operations (for which appropriate armor has been budgeted) and is inconsistent with community policing as a strategy.”
Holland said the equipment purchased would be plastic shields, helmets with protective shields and protective padding.
“This would be equipment that, if we purchased, would be stored so that we would be prepared, but we are not aware in well over 20 years to need to have use that equipment,” Hyattsville City Administrator Tracey Nicholson said.
During the meeting the councilmembers discussed their views of the city and its policing strategy. While many agreed the city’s policing strategy would not typically include gear for riots and unrest, the council disagreed on the next steps.
At a time when tensions between the public and police are at a high and being so close to two metropolitan areas, some councilmembers felt it would be unwise to vote based on what they wish for the city and not on the possibility that the city may have to deal with such an event. Others worried about the safety of their officers and any action plan that could be carried out in the event of unrest.
Councilwoman Shani Warner and councilman Edouard Haba said they were unsure about striking the funding out of the budget. Haba said, since he believes the gear purchased would only be defensive, the right thing to do would be to buy the gear for the safety of officers.
Warner said she felt uncomfortable “second guessing the professionals” the city has hired.
“To think about what could happen. This is defensive equipment. We’ve been told that what we have is unserviceable,” she said. “I hope this vote doesn’t matter. I hope that whether we purchase this or not, it will make no difference because we haven’t used this stuff in the past 20 years. I hope we don’t use it in the next 100 years.”
Despite Warner’s desires to never see the gear used, she said it would be a mistake for the city not to invest in the safety of officers and the people for the sake of a “political point reflecting our hopes and wishes for the future.”
However, Chief Holland said he does not see any immediate need for the purchase. He said the reason he included it in the budget was because the current gear was inadequate and felt it was his responsibility to bring it forward.
Holland also noted the county police department does have gear themselves and in the event of unrest, he believes the county would assist.
“In this year’s budget, the things we have requested, do I think that this is at the top of the priority list in terms of urgency? No I don’t,” he said.
The motion makers, as well as councilmen Thomas Wright and Joseph Solomon, worried of the message it would send the public if the city invested in such gear.
“I do think it sends a bad message,” Lawrence said. “In reference to some of the events nationally that have happened, I think that the presence of what has been described as defensive gear has often been seen as very threatening, offensive use of materials. I just think that it sends the wrong message at the wrong time.”
But Warner said she is still weary of “wishing it away.” She said events where the gear’s use would be required happen so fast that it would be unwise to put the purchase off.