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Guilford sheriff says military-like vehicle is for safety, not to ‘mow down’ protesters

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    Greensboro, NC (Greensboro News and Record) — Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers told commissioners Tuesday that the new vehicle they approved recently was not meant for military purposes or to intimidate protesters.

At an afternoon workshop on the 2021 county budget, several board members told Rogers they had inquiries from constituents about the ROOK tactical vehicle that is intended to keep officers safe in the face of armed suspects who are barricaded or shooting at them.

“It was not purchased to mow down or put protesters in their place,” Rogers said. “It was purchased for the safety that we need for our deputies that are out in the field.”

The board unanimously approved the purchase during its meeting last week without discussion. It was part of the “consent agenda” for which commissioners cast one vote covering a number of items deemed routine and not controversial.

The $295,000 machine is built atop a standard, industrial chassis suited for construction work. But it moves on tracks like a military carrier and has accessories that can knock down doors, pick up a car or lift a bulletproof platform to a building’s upper floor where a sniper might be hiding.

Commissioner Carolyn Coleman said she had fielded questions from the public and wanted to make sure the department was not being outfitted with military equipment.

“Unfortunately, the equipment that we have ordered, people think it is a militarized tool,” Rogers said of the ROOK.

He added that he and his staff have been talking about buying the ROOK as a defensive measure since an October shooting incident in High Point. During that standoff on Braddock Road, a barricaded suspect shot two deputies from a second-story hideout, wounding one of them so badly “he will never return back to work,” Rogers said.

“If we had that tool or machine, we could have gotten up to that second floor without any of our officers being shot,” Rogers said.

Coleman said that she didn’t realize she had voted for the purchase as part of the agenda last week because she participated in the meeting remotely and the audio was so garbled that she couldn’t hear clearly.

Commissioner Alan Perdue said that he also heard from people wondering whether the ROOK was necessary.

“I let them know right quick we’ve had deputies shot this year in hostage situations,” said Perdue, noting that such situations likely will continue given “the times we are living in.”

Rogers was at the meeting mainly to update the board on his department’s role in helping to monitor recent protest marches in Greensboro and High Point stemming from the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

Commissioners said they were pleased with the department’s performance during the last several weeks working with city police while also effectively protecting rural parts of the county.

“We tried to make sure that we were visible, make sure that we were respectful, make sure that we did not violate anybody’s civil rights and make sure that we were very professional,” Rogers said.

The board spent much of the four-hour meeting at the Old Guilford County Courthouse confronting the many uncertainties in next year’s proposed budget, which commissioners expect to refine and approve next week to take effect July 1.

The COVID-19 pandemic has poked a multimillion dollar hole in earlier revenue projections with a slowed economy.

County Manager Marty Lawing has proposed a budget that keeps services at their current levels and avoids increasing property taxes while embarking on only a few new initiatives.

Commissioner Melvin “Skip” Alston said he wanted more information and quicker results from one of those initiatives — hiring a new “infant mortality” coordinator to focus on the high percentage of African American babies who die in their first months of life.

The board also voted to add several other new positions to the budget including a “navigator” to help guide troubled clients through the intake and placement process in the Greensboro office of the Family Justice Center.

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