NEENAH – An armored military truck was on its way Wednesday to Neenah from Texas.
It’s a new acquisition by the city’s police department.
The department says it is to protect its officers in dangerous situations, but some say the vehicle isn’t needed.
The Neenah Police Department’s tactical vehicle, the Peacekeeper, will soon be retired from the force.
“The armored vehicle that we have now, it’s a 1979 model, and it has served us well and it’s done some very good things for us. We find that it is incapable of keeping people safe from some of the armaments that have been used in the last few years,” said Neenah Police Chief Kevin Wilkinson.
An armored military truck will replace it. The $770,000 vehicle comes at no charge through the military’s excess property program.
Some local businesses paid to bring the truck to Wisconsin.
But tax dollars will go toward funding the vehicle’s maintenance, fuel, and other costs.
“I anticipate that it will cost a little bit more for regular maintenance than the last armored, or the current armored vehicle, has primarily because it’s going to consume more fuel,” said Chief Wilkinson. “Our costs over the last five years on the Peacekeeper have been in the area of a $1,000 a year. I would expect it to be similar about $1,500 a year.”
The military truck weighs about 20,000 pounds more than the Peacekeeper. It also stands about three feet taller. To give you some perspective, Chief Wilkinson says as a simple sort of visual, it’s similar in size to a snow plow or garbage truck.
“It has no gun ports, it has no guns. It is just a truck, a very large bullet proof shield on wheels. They have demilitarized it to some extent,” said Wilkinson.
But one alderman says the presence of a vehicle like this one, concerns him.
“I haven’t seen any demonstration from the police as militaristic, but perception I think is key. So I think we really need to tread lightly,” said Alderman William Pollnow. “It’s not that far to realize that the perception could be that this is a further step towards militarization of a police force.”
FOX 11 asked Chief Wilkinson about that concern.
“If they believe that this is moving us philosophically toward becoming a military, to becoming more controlled by the federal government, agents of the federal government, much like the military would be, I certainly don’t agree with that at all,” said Wilkinson.
“The one thing I don’t want to do during my tenure as mayor is I never want to go to a policeman’s funeral. And so if this vehicle can protect them…I’m willing to accept that,” said Neenah Mayor Dean Kaufert. “I want to make sure that they have the proper equipment and the proper training.”
Mayor Kaufert says he supports the acquisition, but believes it should have been handled differently.
“I think one of the mistakes made here was that the city council, they deserve a right to have input into this, along with the citizens of the city. I think that step was missing. The city didn’t have any policy about accepting gifts of that nature,” said Mayor Kaufert.
“Should I have involved the council in this? Should I have taken a public opinion on this? Maybe I didn’t go about this the right way,” said Chief Wilkinson in response. “I did what I believe is right for the citizens of Neenah and really for our larger area here on the north end of the county.”
Pollnow says the council will work to avoid similar situations.
“Implementing a policy that, in the future, there would be discussion necessary, and or possibly council approval to obtain equipment,” Pollnow said.
The vehicle is expected to arrive by Thursday at the earliest. However, it won’t be ready for service for a couple of months.
Other departments that have or will receive the trucks include Appleton and Brown and Door counties.