Vocal opponents of a proposed police spending measure packed Harrisburg’s government center tonight, as City Council chewed over whether to allow the department to purchase new riot gear.
More than two dozen activists attended a council work session, some decrying a Police Bureau plan to purchase 30 “top to toe” protective suits.
“Simply possessing more militarized gear . . . escalates the situation further,” said Amanda Arbour of Harrisburg. “We have seen it’s not the police getting hurt at these types of situations.”
Police are asking council to approve the transfer of $65,000 in unspent personnel funds to buy the equipment. The bureau’s current gear is old—about 25 years old—and inadequate, according to Capt. Derric Moody.
Chief Thomas Carter stated that the Harrisburg police need the equipment as the rate of protests in the state capital—and their volatile nature—is making the force more vulnerable.
“Protective gear is used to de-escalate the situation,” he said. “Protective gear is used (by police) to protect themselves. Without the proper gear, a situation would be escalated more.”
Moody emphasized that the purpose of the gear is protection.
“How can we protect others if we can’t protect ourselves?” he said.
Carter said that the bureau has deployed its existing gear several times recently, including two visits by now-President Donald Trump and a June protest that attracted both “anti-Sharia” activists and masked, black-clad members of a group called Antifa, which stands for “anti-Fascist.” During that event, several fights broke out between the opposing groups, and one woman was arrested for allegedly injuring a state police horse.
“Anytime there’s a potential for harm, potential injury to persons, you would see this gear come into play,” Moody said, who added that the gear wouldn’t be deployed for protests where there is no apparent threat of violence.
Police brought along samples of the suits to show council. Currently, city police riot gear consists mostly of aging helmets, shields and gas masks, Moody said. The requested money would buy full protective suits, which Moody has described as “scalable,” meaning that parts—individual pieces for shoulders, hands, legs, chests, shins, etc.—could be deployed as needed. The suits also come with helmets, shields and riot sticks, which are longer than standard police sticks, Moody said.
Several residents urged council to divert the money to other community needs, perhaps even asking residents what they believe will make the city safer.
“I don’t know that we need to be spending that money on this at this very time,” said Patricia Stringer, a former city councilwoman.
Council members appeared alternatively supportive and skeptical of the bureau’s request.
“There have been protests at the Capitol for a very long time,” said Councilman Cornelius Johnson. “The message got to the masses of people that, because of the increase in the amount of protests, we need to update our gear.”
Moody said that, in fact, protests have become more frequent and virulent.
A vote on the measure was expected tomorrow during council’s final legislative session before its six-week summer hiatus. However, council delayed a vote on the issue until after the recess as police rushed out of the meeting during their presentation to attend to protests at Sen. Pat Toomey’s town hall at ABC27 News studio on N. 6th Street.