Council to vote on police equipment, including armored vehicle

Nov. 20—Despite pushback since 2015 on the purchase of military-style equipment and recent refusals to use asset forfeiture funds, both appear on the Norman City Council's agenda.

The council will decide Tuesday if it will use $1.1 million generated from seized property to purchase SWAT gear, bomb suits, night vision goggles and training, and $353,000 in general fund money for an armored vehicle, a Lenco BearCat.

Following discussion on the controversial use of asset forfeiture funds, the council decided it would use general funds for the armored vehicle instead of forfeiture money.

However, they also agreed to make a floor amendment if the public did not want them to use general fund money.

The vehicle would not be armed with weapons, Norman Police Department staff told the council during a Nov. 15 study session.

When the department has borrowed the vehicles from other agencies, they have been used for "defensive" purposes, to protect officers and residents during shooting incidents with self-barricaded suspects.

More recently, the armored vehicle was used to evacuate people from their homes during a shooting incident with a suspect who said he would die "suicide by cop."

The problem with borrowing such vehicles has meant longer wait times to respond to the threat and that Norman's department would give up control of the scene to the agency that provides the vehicle because it is not manned by its own officers.

While the council has declined to use forfeiture funds in the past, members were mostly in favor of using them for equipment after a presentation by Deputy Chief Ricky Jackson.

He stated that the fund is primarily from criminal activity outside the state, mostly drug trafficking.

Ward 7 Councilor Stephen Holman said not all of the fund is from proceeds of people who are charged or convicted of a crime.

He suggested staff prepare to pay for the items with other funds or a combination of other funds.

Ward 4 Councilor Helen Grant said it would be best to wait for a public safety study to decide if an armored vehicle was necessary.

The council agreed to pay for the study during its July retreat before a decision to increase police funding.

Mayor Larry Heikkila sided with City Manager Darrel Pyle who noted that staff and the council have a fiduciary responsibility to use forfeiture money because it means the general fund would be preserved for other uses.

Other business

The council Tuesday is expected to approve a two-year contract with Strong Towns to conduct a "Community Action Lab."

The organization helps cities reimagine cities without parking mandates, facilitate affordable housing, limited highway expansion and safer streets, the staff report read.

Ward 8 Councilor Matt Peacock proposed the city apply for the lab with Strong Towns during the July retreat.

If awarded, the $149,875 contract will fund public events to gather input from residents, form an "action team" to focus on educating city leaders and stakeholders, reports on the program and one year of ongoing support, the staff report stated.