116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — The Johnson County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday unanimously rejected the sheriff’s request to buy a smaller armored vehicle after hearing from community members who object to using armored vehicles in neighborhoods.
The five supervisors voted against buying a $240,000 Lenco BearCat, which had been discussed as an alternative to the county’s Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP.
The MRAP was acquired in 2014 for free through a federal program offering obsolete or unneeded military equipment. It has been used in 19 documented incidents since then.
Sheriff Brad Kunkel previously said he would not negotiate the need for an armored vehicle — used in hostage situations, for example — but would get rid of the MRAP if the smaller BearCat was purchased instead. Although the county approves the sheriff’s budget, the sheriff is an independently elected official.
Kunkel presented an $810,841 equipment request last month. The package supervisors rejected Wednesday was $708,029 after $102,812 of the costs were offset.
The board approved about a third of the request — $223,638 — for replacing half of the office’s body and squad car cameras, data storage for the cameras, community outreach and a patrol deputy.
Residents have been vocal in their opposition to use of the armored vehicle, saying such a vehicle is unnecessary, intimidating and will not improve public safety. A petition requesting the county get rid of the MRAP and not purchase a BearCat to replace it had more than 600 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.
Ten individuals spoke against the armored vehicles during the board’s budget work session Wednesday afternoon. A number of them also had raised concerns last month.
“I think that this $240,000 specifically has much better use in other areas,” said Amel Ali, a South District resident and vice chair of Iowa City’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Similarly, Taylor Kohn said approving the funds would be a “missed opportunity to invest that money in services people need.” Kohn said the community has been pushing back against the MRAP since 2014 when it was first acquired.
“While the MRAP, as unwelcome as it still is, was free, the BearCat costs taxpayers enough money to pay one of your annual salaries almost three times over,” Kohn said.
Kunkel requested $404,782 to replace deputy body and squad car cameras with a new system, with an additional $10,000 for on-site data storage. Kunkel said last month there’s a “dire need” to replace the aging cameras and difficulty in getting replacement parts from the manufacturer, L3. The new provider would be Motorola/WatchGuard.
Supervisors unanimously voted to replace half the camera equipment, at a cost of $202,391. The other half the request was rejected by a 3-2 vote, with Supervisors Rod Sullivan and Jon Green voting for funding the full amount for the body cameras.
Supervisor Lisa Green-Douglass, one of the three votes against the full request, said the purchase of new cameras needed to be staggered so the replacement schedule “doesn’t have this massive impact on the budget.”
The supervisors unanimously approved $10,000 for data storage for the new cameras and approved $10,000 for community outreach expenses by a 3-2 vote.
The salary and vehicle for a new patrol deputy was requested due to the county’s increased population growth and an increase in contract hours the city of Tiffin is seeking for sheriff’s protection.
The majority of the costs for the new position — $102,812 — are covered by the Tiffin contract. Supervisors approved the remaining $1,247 for the deputy 4-1, with Green opposed.
Supervisors rejected a vehicle and equipment for the new patrol deputy on a 4-1 vote, with Sullivan voting in favor.
Fiscal 2023 budget begins on July 1. Wednesday’s vote was the first of three decision-making votes. The other two decision-making votes are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.
An informal vote on the budget is scheduled March 16 with a formal vote slated March 24.
Comments: (319) 339-3155; email@example.com