A stock photo of a mobile command center vehicle manufactured by Braun Northwest Inc.

What's at stake?

The Fresno Police Department is seeking city council approval to purchase a $444,000 mobile command center vehicle that would aid in responding to emergencies.

Update: The Fresno City Council approved the contract with a unanimous vote on May 11. The item was pulled for discussion by Councilmember Miguel Arias, who confirmed that the city was entering into a ten-year lease contract to obtain the command center vehicle, which would require the city to budget for lease payments every year for the next decade.

The Fresno City Council is set to approve a contract to purchase a $444,000 mobile command vehicle for the city’s police force, which would assist in responding to emergency situations in need of de-escalation.

The vehicle, known as a NorthStar 267-5 mobile command vehicle, includes a van equipped with indoor office space, A/C units, work stations, storage space, tables and an awning.

The vehicle would serve as a mobile headquarters for the department’s police officers and crisis negotiators to coordinate the de-escalation of several different emergencies, including “hostage situations, active shooters, suicide attempts, and natural or man-made disasters,” according to a staff report.

The money to purchase the vehicle, which costs $444,740 before local tax, comes from the Fresno Police Department’s $232 million operating budget for the 2023 fiscal year, according to the staff report.

Chief Paco Balderrama told Fresnoland in an interview that the sum would be paid over the next ten years through a lease-to-own contract. 

Right now, Balderrama said the Fresno Police Department’s crisis negotiation team has been using a trailer attached to a semi-truck — which was initially meant for use at DUI checkpoints — to coordinate emergency de-escalation response. In the last year, he said the crisis team used the trailer six times.

“Obviously, our SWAT team does have a communication center (vehicle), but that’s specifically for SWAT,” Balderrama said. “We’re a big enough city to where there’s enough of a need.”

The item will be voted on by the Fresno City Council as part of the consent agenda on May 10. Unless a member of the public or city council pulls the item, it will likely be approved without public discussion.

A vehicle is not all that’s needed for de-escalating a situation. The Fresno Commission on Police Reform, in its final report released in 2020, focused on how de-escalation techniques must be central in how Fresno police respond to all situations, not just protests or mental health calls. 

On March 9, when Balderrama gave an update on the implementation of the commission’s recommendations to the city council, he concurred that Fresno Police Department should have a de-escalation policy.

He also said that the department had since implemented a department-wide de-escalation policy, which it didn’t have prior.

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Omar Shaikh Rashad is the government accountability reporter for Fresnoland.

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