NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR)  – A proposed resolution to allocate $1.139 million dollars from Norman Police Department’s seizures and restitution fund balance for the purchase of public safety equipment is causing controversy across the city.

“The police department needs to be modernized in this day and age of high powered weapons. And rifles. And the last nine months have shown there’s a need to have our own rescue vehicle,” said Ward 5 councilmember Rarchar Tortorello.

“We’ve had two major instances, and one was a month ago where the standoff lasted 12 hours. It took about 2 hours for County to bring up their rescue vehicle,” he added.

Officials said the proposed spending will go towards equipment for special events, critical incidents, search and rescue events and gear for the SWAT team and hazardous devices unit, including:

1) One (1) armored all-purpose rescue “BearCat” vehicle from Lenco Industries, Inc. in the amount of $333,000.  This particular rescue vehicle from Lenco is on the state contract in Oklahoma

2) Training expenses (x4) totaling $20,000 associated with the purchase of the all-purpose rescue vehicle’s operation

3) Four (4) E-bikes totaling $10,000

4) Drones and related equipment totaling $37,703

5) Protective tactical vests and helmets (x6 each) totaling $15,000

6) One (1) portable X-ray machine totaling $40,000

7) Tactical bomb tech tool kits (x4) totaling $20,000

8)  One (1) radiation detector in the amount of $20,000

9)  One (1) all-terrain HDU robot (small) in the amount of $32,000

10)  Negotiations communication equipment totaling $21,030

11)  Door breaching equipment totaling $22,195

12)  Large venue security equipment totaling $7,000

13)  Simunition kits (x16) totaling $12,500

14) Gas masks (x16) and canisters (x32) totaling $13,000

15)   Ballistic shields and blankets (x2 each) totaling $20,000

16)   Aiming laser systems (x15) totaling $20,000

17)   One (1) Hazardous Devices Unit robot (primary large) from the ANDROS line of Remotec/Peroton at a cost of $375,000

18) Two (2) bomb suits totaling $70,000 manufactured by Med-Eng Holdings LLC 

19) Night vision equipment totaling $50,660

The full agenda and breakdown can be viewed here

Among the list of recommended items raising eyebrows is the provision for a “BearCat”, an in armored, tactical vehicle typically used in high-risk crisis responses

“The BearCat was actually something that I ran on the first time because it had been such a hot topic in 2015 and 2016 [and] this was a topic of conversation after a couple of high profile incidences in Norman and the pushback from the public was very strong and very fast, partly because of our city’s financial situation, which is still not where it should be,” said Kate Bierman, a former City Councilwoman for Ward 1. 

Previous consideration for the purchase in 2015 and 2016 was tabled. 

“Why this vehicle over a SWAT truck which provides the same defensive capabilities as an armored vehicle but none of the offensive capabilities? And we also need to know what is going to be the use policy for this vehicle,” she added, while questioning the long term maintenance of the rescue vehicle.

“I have a feeling that bulletproof panels for a barricade are probably pretty expensive, so we should have some really good guidelines about when a vehicle like this is used and under what circumstances.”

In a meeting Tuesday, supporters said a number of critical incidents within the last two years coupled with the police department’s response with outdated and unreliable equipment let to the proposed list of purchases, which are needed for public and police safety. 

“We [supporters] know that these rescue vehicles do save lives, both civilians and officers and even the perps. If they’re ever arrested, we need to have and provide the tools to normal police department so they can save lives. That’s the bottom line,” countered Tortorello.

“I’m asking that council take tonight’s study session, look at the data and ask the questions [and when it’s time to vote] that [the] council stand up and lead and tell their constituents that these are tools that NPD needs to have,” he added. 

Still others criticize the timing, and spending. 

“How are we allowed to spend that civil asset forfeiture? Is this the best use of those funds? Will we be stuck paying for a duplication of services with Cleveland County?,” said Ward 4 councilmember Helen Grant, referring to the county’s recent purchase of a similar vehicle.

The Cleveland County Multi-Jurisdictional Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team announced the purchase of the Cleveland County Lenco BearCat in May for high-risk crisis response, citing an incident from the spring of 2021 as a reason for the push.

“Officers were dealing with an active shooter targeting residents’ homes and vehicles as well as officers on the scene; hindering all evacuation efforts. Residents and officers were forced to take shelter, using vehicles and homes for protection until armored vehicles from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and Moore Police Department could arrive,” said Sheriff Amason at the time.

“The taxpayers of Cleveland County have already paid for an armored vehicle through the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Department. I think it was an appropriate partnership between the police department and Cleveland County Sheriff’s with this multijurisdictional SWAT team. I think that it served the residents of Moore very well to have one vehicle used for the whole county [and] I do not understand why Norman can’t simply join that partnership,” said Bierman.

“This has been a very long and contentious issue. And I feel [we’re] rushing this without having clarification about how we can spend those funds,” added Grant. 

“Those are things the voters have to vote on. And if they’re not happy with this for this particular vote, then it may come back to bite us,” she added. 

City council members said the proposed purchases will get added to a city council agenda for consideration and a vote next week. 

The “BearCat” and any associated costs will be voted on as a separate resolution, to allow an opportunity for public comment and transparency.