A smart and sensible purchase

Published 10:28 pm 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.

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“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.