Archived Story

A smart and sensible purchase

Published 10:28pm Monday, September 24, 2012

Regular readers of this page will not be surprised to read that we are not big fans of out-of-control government spending, regardless of the level at which it takes place. Whether here in Suffolk, at the statehouse in Richmond or in the halls of Congress, profligate spending by bureaucrats and out-of-touch politicians disgraces those officials and breaks the bank for the taxpayers who are forced to pay for the boondoggles that have been used to buy votes.

It would be pretty shortsighted, however, to cite the purchase of a mobile command bus for the Suffolk Police Department as an example of wasteful spending.

The department unveiled its new, custom-built mobile command center last week. It was purchased for $656,000 with a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Police Chief Thomas Bennett conducted tours of the vehicle and explained its value to his department and to the region prior to a City Council retreat.

“This bus is designed to have every need that may come up to address any situation we may encounter,” he said. “It’s my job to make sure the people in the police department have everything necessary to be efficient, effective and do their jobs safe, and I’m going to continue to do that.”

The Department of Homeland Security has obvious and understandable worries about the potential for terrorist violence on American shores. As the nation’s interests come under attack around the globe, it’s not hard to imagine the awful results a group of determined terrorists could have if they set their minds to wreaking havoc in America’s heartland, even in a place like Suffolk. Providing local police with the tools they need to be ready for such an attack is prudent on the part of DHS.

At the same time, there are any number of other real — as opposed to theoretical — situations in which a tool like the city’s new mobile command center could play a significant role. From the tornado that obliterated Suffolk neighborhoods in 2008 to the massive hunt for a man accused of beating a police officer almost to death earlier this year, even Suffolk has its share of serious police incidents that require a coordinated response be set up on the scene. Giving officers and their supervisors a place to organize their efforts and centralize communications is a smart, sensible move.

“Smart” and “sensible” may well not describe a lot of things government chooses to fund, but they’re appropriate words for this particular expenditure.

  • Peanutbred

    To clarify a point made below, the City of Suffolk was NOT somehow chosen out of the blue to receive a Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency Port Security Grant Program award to purchase this mobile command bus. The city APPLIED for the grant and had to have done so under questionable stretches of the FEMA guidelines for the eligibility for such funding, available here:

    Accordingly, it is a misapprehension of the facts or simply spin to suggest that somehow the City of Suffolk was “offered” the funds to make this purchase above other political subdivisions, perhaps, deemed unworthy.

    The City of Suffolk was not listed in either Group I or Group II of the “high risk” ports, under the 2010 FEMA guidelines, and it seems clear that the Suffolk Police Department’s own rationale for having the behemoth has nothing to do with the FEMA grant’s intentions: to protect ports from a terrorist attack, NOT a means to supplement a local law enforcement’s wish list.

    In fact, it would appear that the real purpose of the purchase of this equipment would render it “unallowable” under FEMA guidelines (pp. 33-34). A thorough reading of the grant application itself by this newspaper would be instructive and in order.

    Further, the Virginia Ports Authority has primary responsibility for protecting the ports within the Commonwealth and, to that end, has its own police force of fully certified and sworn law enforcement officers who are responsible for physical security at and around Virginia’s ports. Indeed, it was and remains eligible to apply for such a grant. Apparently, it has not found the reason to do so.

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  • jhuxster

    Why is it that you question the wisdom of purchasing a vehcile which even the police departement can only cite two occasions in the last 8 years when it would be useful that you’re against the police department? I’m not against police officers having what they need–but I am against expensive toys that do NOTHING to improve the safety of this city. I’m sorry that police officers sometimes have to work in the eat–but so do the people who maintain the roads or cut the grass. Do we now buy each of them an air conditioned lawn mower so they don’t have to be hot? It’s a telling statistic that only two other cities (and that was one too many) have such expensive toys. Suffolk, the smallest of the cities now has a vehicle that Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Hampton, Williamsburg, Norfolk, etc don’t think they need. Why do we? If we could use Portsmouth’s and Newport News during the tornado (which is the ONLY extended time one was used) without impacting them, then we can get by without one. They have their toy and it is in the same class as the fancy gazebo behind the unneeded multi-million dollar tourist center. A foolish, unnecessary and avoidable expense. If you wouldn’t spend your money for a tool, you should spend the taxpayers.

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    • Lovebug

      Your not seeing the whole picture “jhuxster”. This bus is not just going to be used by Suffolk its to assist all of Hampton Roads agencies it just so happens that Suffolk was given the funding for it. The fact that Officers have to work in the heat is not the issue. The fact that command officers having to work out of their police cars and in the middle of the road during situations like the tornado, the man hunt, negotiations, and other things our Officers do that many of our Citizens are not aware of. Same goes with mutual aid to other cities. Its all about being prepared for the event that will prompt the use of something like this. You would be very surprised at how this bus will make what they do much more effective. It wouldn’t hurt for you and others who doubt its use to actually take the time to have an officer show you what it will be used for and why. I think you would be very surprised.

      The telling statistic that only a few other cities have one of these is due to the fact that a grant to fund one has not been offered to other cities, it was offered to Suffolk.

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      • jhuxster

        Once again you miss the point lovebug. The purchase is a waste of money. It doesn’t do a darn thing to improve the city’s safety. If this was one large metro area there might be one command center for the area–now we have three. Again, if Newport News and Portsmouth could release their unit for our use for an extended period we don’t need this. Using your convoluted logic, since we used a helicopter during the recent man hunt we need to buy one of those. Just think how cool that would look with Suffolk police officers patrolling the city from the air. The because our utilization of a copter just about matches the ultilization of this command post. You keep changing your justification–in other posts you justified so the officers wouldn’t have to work in inclimate weather. Sorry but that’s part of the job. Actually I’m almost willing to make a wager. One year from now request through the FOIA the number of times this has been used as a legitimate command post. I will bet you it doesn’t get used at all–or not nearly enough to justify almost 3/4 million in tax dollars (which it will soon cost when you add training, maintenance and fuel to it).Of course, that’s assuming the city will actually honor the request. Suffolk has one of the poorest FOIA records in the state. It looks good and it’s attractive–and it’s just like the gazebo by an unneeded welcome center, unneeded Hilton, and unneeded cultural center (over $50 million in wasteed tax dollars). THere’s not a business in the world,if it needed a piece of equipment it would use only once every 5 years (which is what the justification said) that would spend tens of thousands of dollars to buy it–it would either lease it or find a work around. There’s a state of the art command center in the new police building.USe it. They’re grasping at straws at taxpayers’s expense so the police department can look cool. Sorry lovebug, it was foolish when they proposed it, it will be foolish a year from now, and it will be foolish when we find out how much it’s costing us to operate–if the city will ell you.
        Again, it just demonstrates how out of touch the city is with real life. And, my suggestion to you is if you think this is such a good purchase then don’t dare complain when the CM gets a new vehicle, when the Treasurer gets a new vehicle or when the city spends any money becuase if you think this is a good idea then any expenditure is a good idea. In regards to the grant–it’s not free money. It was money confiscated from taxpayers who work to fund a overlarge, over intrusive, over bearing governmetn.

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      • Lovebug

        I’m not missing any point, I have seen the need first hand because it has personally effected some of my family members for years.
        For me personally I’m glad they got it because they need it and I’ve seen that they need it. Police work in bad weather all of the time but in certain situations they need a place to rehab and get out of the bad weather and they need something set up for “police” to rehab not what a firefighter uses that is really no use to a police officer. In reality they are still human! Not only that but their command staff need to be able to conduct their business somewhere other than the middle of the road or from a car that doesn’t contain the necessary equiptment.

        There are many things that money is spent on that are really not a need such as paved bike paths but we spend the money on them anyway. I would personally rather our Gov set our first responders up with things they need or may need in the future rather than a bike path.

        Our CM and others certainly did not need brand new SUVs they already had vehicles and its not like they have special tatical issues to deal with so yes I will continue that complaint.

        As for the other cities, they to are going to benefit from this bus as well as other agencies in HR. The bus that was used during the tornado from Portsmouth is not worth speaking of and shows that many who comment on here have never seen it much less seen it on the inside. Its old and not even close to being up to standard for any Police Dept to do their job.

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  • walle

    It’s about time we see a postive article for the police department. I just don’t understand why everyone is so against this department. The new Cheif has been a great asset to this department and has brought about great change and new needed equipment.

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  • Lovebug

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