Editorial: Bend should focus on needs not wants

Suppose you are making choices about what Bend’s police need. Would a mobile command vehicle be on the list?

One part of Bend’s proposed budget for the next biennium that deserves some council scrutiny is the plan to buy a mobile command vehicle for the police for $200,000.

Why is it necessary?

Police Chief Jeff Sale told us the department is looking into buying about a 33-foot vehicle. It would be a motor home designed for the police. It would have communications equipment. It could be compartmentalized so that there could essentially be two small rooms. It wouldn’t be armored.

Several companies make them. There’s no specific model in mind. The department is not shopping, yet.

The $200,000 in the city budget is a placeholder, Sale told us. His hope is that he can secure grant funding for the purchase and it won’t cost the city. He is looking to use interest from the Helen Lorenz fund that was donated for use by the police and fire departments.

No cost to the general fund is a great selling point. But using the grant money for the vehicle does mean it couldn’t be used for something else.

The critical selling point is necessity. When would the department use its mobile command vehicle?

Sale told the editorial board it could be used for maybe 40 or 50 events a year — incidents such as the arson at the Trinity Episcopal Church, search warrants that require long periods on site, special events, murder investigations and so on. It would provide a portable, private work space to collect evidence and manage and coordinate investigations. Now the department uses the back of an SUV. The existing command unit is too cramped and outdated, Sale said.

The mobile command vehicle sounds like it would be nice to have. Only a year ago, though, Sale was worried that the city’s financial future might compel him to take drastic steps to prioritize police services — less enforcement for property crimes worth less than $100,000 and even having to make difficult choices about which alleged rapes get investigated.

It’s encouraging that the city is seeing enough signs in the economy that it believes it can hire a couple of police officers and firefighters and some other staff. But in these economic times, the city should focus on its most important needs — not wants.