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BRANDON — The wisdom of equipping Brandon police with a $400,000 armoured vehicle has been questioned after documents show it was used at five firearms searches — and in 28 birthday party parades — during the first six months of operation.
"When you take $400,000 and divide it by three, are we really getting our bang for our buck here?" asked Chris Schneider, a sociology professor at Brandon University who researches policing.
He said the money spent on the vehicle could have been used elsewhere.
"I think the money probably would have been better suited to maybe hiring two mental health crisis workers to go on calls," he said.
The Brandon Sun filed freedom of information requests for each instance the vehicle has been deployed since police acquired it in December 2019. Documents show that as of June 24, it was deployed on three days for five separate search warrants around the city.
Brandon police Chief Wayne Balcaen defended the acquisition of the vehicle.
"I would rather have it available and not use it and make sure that it’s there to protect our police officers. Very similar to a fire apparatus, like a ladder truck or something like that, it might only be used a few times a year, but when we need it, it’s there to protect the citizens," he said.
The province’s decision to buy the vehicle followed a period in which the Brandon police emergency response team was sent out 14 times in 2018 and six times in 2019.
The vehicle, built by Terradyne Armored Vehicles Inc., was paid for by the criminal property forfeiture fund.
Balcaen said the incidents in which it has been used were considered high risk because they involved firearms. The deployments took place Jan. 16, March 18 and March 20.
Police seized five rifles, one loaded shotgun, two airsoft rifles, one CO2 handgun, 100 rounds of ammunition, bear spray and 600 grams of cocaine.
Police filed "numerous charges for firearm and drug-related offences" from those search warrants, said Ian Richards, the city’s accessibility and privacy officer.
Balcaen said the responses were a success. "Our goal on any of these is to resolve any incident peacefully. When we get called out to this it’s because the situation has got to a point where we need to deploy special resources."
The armoured vehicle was also sent to 28 birthday parades by first responders in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Whether or not the vehicle was sent on parades was dependent on whether or not the ARV was at the BPS station, being used by members of the tactical team for training, vehicle familiarization, or other purposes," Richards said.
Schneider said using it in birthday parades is a way for police to normalize a military-style vehicle.
"When you can get kids to think that they are cool or neat and play around them, it starts early. Why do the police need a vehicle… that is specifically meant to be used in circumstances where there is an armed conflict or an armed conflict with police?"
The RCMP used a tactical vehicle during an incident near Onanole this month. Officers used it to breach the door of a house where a man was allegedly inside with guns. The man had a self-inflicted injury, but officers were able to provide first aid.
"It’s cases like that that show the value of what it can be used for to assist people," Balcaen said.
Despite this, Schneider said armoured vehicles are still a "hard sell" to the public, especially given recent protests over police brutality.
In a statement, Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen called the vehicle a "valuable asset" adding "it’s also worth noting this equipment was purchased through criminal property forfeiture and federal proceeds of crime funds, not by Manitoba taxpayers."
The Winnipeg Police Service has an armoured vehicle, which was purchased for $342,800 in 2015. It was deployed 78 times in 2018.
— Draw May and Colin Slark, Brandon Sun
Updated on Friday, July 31, 2020 at 6:19 AM CDT: Adds photo
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