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New London passing on military vehicle sent the right message

A local police department should be seen as part of the community, working with it to make things as safe as possible for all its citizens. And in recent years the New London Police Department has worked to be just that.

But despite all good intentions, and assurances that it would be used sparingly to deal with emergencies, the department’s decision to obtain a military assault vehicle through a federal surplus equipment program sent a different message — us against you.

The City Council’s decision this week, in a 5-2 vote, to say, “No thanks,” was the right one. The vehicle will be sold or otherwise disposed of.

Symbols matter, and the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle is an imposing one. It is right at home in a war zone. Our city is not a war zone.

The vehicle was obtained through the Federal Surplus Property Program without input from the council or mayor. Police Chief Peter Reichard has explained his department saw an opportunity and acted quickly. That was a mistake. A military vehicle coming into the city’s possession should not be a surprise to elected officials in this relatively small community.

Its arrival conjured up visions seen in other places, where police rolled out military equipment to confront protestors in scenes reminiscent of militaristic, totalitarian countries. There is a growing consensus that military-style policing only drives a wedge between police and the communities they are sworn to serve and protect.

National Guard units are available if things turn violent and order must be restored.

Yes, Sgt. Lawrence Keating explained that the armored vehicle’s planned use was to provide safe cover during an active shooter situation or for use during flooding or other natural disasters — not as a show of force. But state police have the equipment and resources to assist in active shooter situations and the city has two high-water rescue trucks.

If building trust between the community and police is the goal, and it should be, the council’s decision sent the right message.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

Editor's Note: This version corrects the 5-2 City Council vote.

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