This column originally appeared in the June 30, 2016 edition of the Herald Weekly. The 2003 model BearCat armored vehicle was finally delivered in late July, after publication of this column, and coincidentally just in time for it to be shown off at the National Night Out celebration. The bill of sale is included below. My favorite justification for this purchase given by the town manager and police chief – it has less than 6,000 miles on the odometer! Initial purchase price of the thirteen (13) year old armored vehicle was $31,500 – I haven’t seen any reporting on how much the police department has spent on the vehicle for upgrades and/or repairs since it was delivered. Maybe an inquisitive town board member can find out how much the town has spent on the BearCat since it was delivered at the first board meeting of the year on Jan. 17.
Fortunately, the armored vehicle has yet to be deployed related to any actual criminal activity in Huntersville to the best of my knowledge.
“Our officers and citizens deserve this kind of protection… Isn’t your life worth $82,000?” That is the response Huntersville Police Chief Cleveland Spruill gave in a June 2015 Herald Weekly interview justifying his request for a BearCat armored vehicle in last year’s budget. If Huntersville officers and citizens indeed deserve and require the protection of an armored vehicle, why is the town still not in possession of the used BearCat paid for last year?
A used BearCat was purchased by the town in October 2015, according to Spruill. [see bill of sale below] It has not yet been delivered, however, due to a purchase agreement allowing the seller to keep its used BearCat until they could acquire a replacement armored vehicle. He explained the BearCat was to have been delivered in May, but unanticipated delays have pushed the delivery date back. Spruill still does not know exactly when the BearCat will be delivered.
The town paid approximately $31,000 for the used armored vehicle. Initially, $165,900 was requested for its purchase, but only $82,500 was allocated in the budget. What happened to the approximately $50,000 in savings for the town? Was the balance of the money spent on something other than the BearCat, or will the balance be spent on improvements to the used vehicle when it’s finally delivered?
And who is the seller currently benefiting from the use of the BearCat paid for by Huntersville taxpayers? That would be the City of Alexandria (Va.) Police Department, which is where Spruill served immediately before becoming chief in Huntersville in May 2014.
This entire episode raises a number of questions besides whether the prior town board should have even approved the purchase of an armored vehicle. Why was this purchase agreement not approved by the town board? How much longer will Huntersville residents and officers have to wait for the BearCat? How much would it cost to cancel the contract and use the original funding allocated to immediately buy a used BearCat from another seller? Even if the used BearCat is finally delivered from Alexandria, how much additional funding will be needed to make repairs or upgrades?
On a similar note – The FY 2016-17 budget was approved earlier this month by a 4-3 vote, and a major point of contention was over the $1 million budget increase being sought by the police department. Supporters of this massive increase in spending, including president of the local Police Benevolent Association chapter Tom Slymon, pointed to two specific statistics as justification: a 30 percent increase in violent crime and a 15 percent increase in property crime in Huntersville. These statistics were supplied to the mayor and town board by the police department in a memorandum dated June 1, 2016, but the data are not publicly available on the police department’s website. [see memorandum below]
Mark Twain has a famous quote about statistics, if I recall.
The time periods used in the memorandum are not clearly defined, but incident report data are provided through May 29, 2016. Year to date rapes and robberies in 2016 are reportedly up 100 percent, while aggravated assaults are down 5 percent, totaling a 30.43 percent increase in violent crime (murder remained at zero). Only three robberies were reported in 2015, and six so far in 2016. Zero rapes were reported in the first five months of 2015, but there have been five reported in the first five months of 2016, according to the data.
I don’t know how going from zero to five rapes equals an increase of 100 percent, since percentage change is meaningless when starting from zero, but, more importantly, what is the police department in Huntersville doing to address the increasing rate?
Given the current disdain for the Bill of Rights among many in this country, I feel the need to remind readers that arrest and incident reports are not convictions, and those arrested are innocent until proven guilty.
Safewise.com, an online publication, ranked Huntersville 18th on its list of the 50 Safest Cities in N.C. in 2015. Huntersville will surely fall out of the Top 50 this year if the statistics being reported by the police are accurate.